Wikipedia defines work-life balance as a “concept including proper prioritizing between ‘work’ (career and ambition) and ‘lifestyle’ (health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development/meditation).” Surely, you’ve at least heard the term thrown about here or there. Sometimes it’s a simple discussion of whether employer requirements or pure workaholism prevents people from eating food and playing basketball with their kids. Other times, gender takes a more prominent role, often in a debate about whether working mothers get enough maternity leave or how working mothers can “lean in” for career success and/or be good mothers at the same time.
I’m here to declare that it’s all bullshit, regardless of context. It’s bullshit (or even horseshit) because “work” and “life” are not two separate things. Period. End of story. Life is every single moment that we spend aboard this crazy rock called Earth as it soars through the cosmos. Work is something we do along the ride, often mostly for the purpose of collecting a paycheck so as to eat food and live somewhere and pay for other things like that. There’s no tug-of-war between these two things; one exists as but a component of the other.
It is primarily employers who would have us believe otherwise. In recent years, the old-fashioned notion that companies pay workers a wage in exchange for labor has, in many settings, been replaced by the notion that the worker has been wholly rented for certain hours of the day – or even, in some cases, the whole day. This notion can partially explain why employers can still fire you for your political views. It is why drug testing is so prevalent – and entirely accepted – for both applicants and current employees whose jobs do not involve the use of dangerous machinery, why we collectively overlook the fact that this practice is a disgusting invasion of internal bodily privacy. It is why you have heard the term “stealing time” to describe the offense of a worker so much as breathing in a “non-work-related” way while on the job.
Why do we put up with this? The Bill of Rights contained within the constitution, of course, constrains only the actions of the government, leaving private enterprises to behave however they want. But isn’t it worth noting that, if the government were doing what corporations do, we’d be talking about gross violations of the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments, at the very least? In a nation supposedly dedicated to liberty and democracy, why should such a broad swath of workers – the populace – submit to this kind of degradation?
Naturally, the answers to this don’t come easy, and given our current climate and weakened labor movement, we have to accept – for now – that we’re probably not going to establish codified workplace rights to free speech, ban urinalysis, or even cast off the cursed yoke of “at-will employment.” Yet while at times Big Labor still represents the best hopes of the working class, its weakened state both permits and demands that we seek unconventional approaches to our problems. The fact that fast food workers nationwide are engaging in high-profile strikes despite lacking a union or collective bargaining entity should serve as a lesson for all of us: think outside the box and great things are possible.
Change begins in the mind, and it is in the mind that we must take the first steps towards reclaiming all of our lives, and not just a portion of them. We have to change our minds. The upside of this necessity is that our minds, if nothing else, are within our own power to change. If we can do so together, the road to revolution and empowerment begins with a quiet but ultimately powerful campaign behind a message that should not be considered subversive or radical in the slightest – even if it seems so to some. It’s a campaign behind a notion we can potentially all agree on, regardless of political leanings or spiritual tendencies.
Work is life.
Not “life is work.” Not “work is central to life.” Just…work is life. Work is life just like family is life and driving is life and eating is life and peeing is life. It’s all life and no one can deny it – but to embrace this requires a shift in mentality in which we are no longer granting other people ownership of our moments and our spirits. Our labor, they can have, if they must have it. But management cannot take more than that without our consent, and it’s time we realize that. Realizing that, the very way we approach our days and our work will transform. If enough people exercise this option in tandem, our workplaces will change. The position of the worker will begin moving from its present weakness to a newfound strength. If we should be so loud and proud to take things that far, rest assured that the whole of our society will be remade in the course of the effort.
We’ve got to start somewhere, though, and for all our grandiose dreams (and why should dreams be small?) we must start with what is easy and possible right now. To use a favored business school term, we must start with the “low-hanging fruit.” So what’s the fruit? We’ve given the possibilities some cursory examination in our This Working Life section, and we’ve lightheartedly explored a fraction of what is possible with our Unity Tuesday experiment, but it’s time to take it to the next level.
It’s time to mount a real campaign. It’s time not to engage in the kind of fist shaking and bold shouting that will get everyone fired, but to reflect and examine and discuss and debate what means exist at our disposal, within our own selves, to improve the environments within which we are trapped by exercising our universal option to actually live every moment of our lives.
I’m opening up the floor for this campaign. I’m not just going to run this with a set of Wizard-contrived solutions or a four-step plan of attack (despite the fact that it’s wholly in my nature to do so). I want to hear from you. I want to hear your workplace stories and the lessons you’ve learned. I want to hear your ideas for how to make the moments you’re trapped at work still belong to you. I want to hear about your failures and your successes. If you’ve got a lot to say, I want to publish your guest posts right here. This is an open floor. Talk to me. I don’t need any real names – hell, I don’t even write under my real name. It’s the ideas that matter.
I want to talk about this together so that maybe we can then act together. We’ve got to start somewhere.
In the coming weeks, I will also be speaking to others whose insight might prove beneficial, and I will be bringing you these discussions right here. I’m going to talk to religious leaders of several different faiths and spiritual traditions in case their world views and philosophies might be applicable even for those who do not adhere to them. I’ll be talking with humanists as well. I’m going to talk to political thinkers. I’m going to reach out to artists and writers. In pursuit of a broad campaign, a broad net must be cast. The people with whom I speak are not all going to agree with one another, or even with me. Nor should my presentation of an idea or a thinker be construed as an endorsement. This is about exploration and dialogue, and without a forum open to diversity, disagreement, dispute, and even chaos, we don’t have a campaign.
I need your help. Without your help, we don’t have a campaign. In my nine years in the cubicle, I saw too many instances in which large majorities of the rank and file believed a certain thing or wanted a certain thing but were too scared to speak or to act accordingly. I’ve seen employee-based counseling programs begun in which no one signs up due to a climate of mistrust and fear. If everyone keeps their mouths shut and just goes along with the crappy way things are right now, this campaign will fail in the same way. Don’t let it. This place is as safe and anonymous as you want it to be. I am not your boss, I don’t know your boss, and I would never rat on you, no matter what you said or did.
I’m going to start the talking. Don’t let my voice be the only one. All we’re campaigning for is recognition of what’s already true: WORK IS LIFE.
Talk to me.