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The Toxic Myth of (Work-Life) Balance

The toxic myth of balance in the entrepreneurial life

 Too Much of a Good Thing?

We have a client who has all the business she can handle. As quickly as she can expand her facilities and her team, that available capacity is eaten up by new business.

While some might think “nice problem to have!” it's actually a serious challenge. Too-rapid growth today can lead to failure tomorrow.

Businesses operate on three levels or cycles:


1. The Traction Cycle: taking care of the business you already have; driven by sales above all.

2. The Growth Cycle: those activities that grow your business over the next quarter; has delegation as its centre.

3. The Enterprise Cycle: focuses on what your business will look like when you are ready to exit or to scale out.

How does our client focus on her brand when every waking hour is consumed with operations: manufacturing, quality control, shipping?

To adapt a well-used question: how does a business owner stop working in the business (traction cycle) so they can start working on the business (growth & enterprise cycles)?

Forget Balance

Not by striving for balance.

Work Life Balance is one of those corrosive myths like the perfect holiday, or the perfect weight, or the concept of “creating” your reality (à la The Secret). These are myths are toxic because because when we inevitably fail, it starts a spiral of misplaced guilt: the books say this is attainable, and it is my job to make it happen, and since everything is my responsibility, and this thing didn’t work out, it must be my fault.

The business section of every book store is full of proponents of this myth. They appear to promise that we can have everything we ever wanted, while only working 4 days a week, in our yoga gear, while being the perfect parent and spouse. And when we fail at what we believe everyone else has, we beat ourselves roundly for 'failing to get it'.  That is toxic.

Forget the toxic quest for perfect balance. Put down that patchouli-scented book and start working your ass off and loving it. Throw out your audio book of The Secret, and put in a CD of Keith Richards, Beethoven, or Miles Davis. Go for great performances.

All great performances (music, dance, theatre) have a few elements in common:

1. Have tunnel vision. Zero in on what matters most. Focus on the work that energizes you when you are exhausted; that you would do for free. That kind of passion isn’t balanced, but it is the heartbeat of success.

2. Know your s**t. No amount of planning can replace experience. Know that until you have done this for years, the right mix won’t come easy. But if you stick with it, you will start doing it right from your bones out. Your actions will be driven by what works, rather than by abstract notions of logic or balance.

3. Improvise! In the framework of your experience & skill, improvise to learn what kinds of decisions and actions best feed the beautiful monster. Improvisation drives real change and growth.

4. Lead a tribe. You can’t do it all. With the tunnel vision you require, you can’t see everything. Allow others in to see for you. Learn to listen, converse, and argue to broaden your perspective.

5. Begin with the right end in mind: to make a difference. At the end of our day, and of our days, we fall into bed exhausted. No one wants to die having achieved perfect work-life balance. As the dark pulls around us, close we want to close our eyes knowing we have made a difference. It’s the only thing that matters.

The first version of this article originally appeared on the Wejungo Network.

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