work-life balance and value systems

Every so often, Twitter (I still can’t get behind the name X), will go into a frenzy over someone talking about how they sacrificed their life in the name of work. We’re in an era where people want to live their lives. And so the workaholics and balancists go to work shouting at each other online.

Recently, I’ve had this thought that the difference between these two camps comes down to values. Some people value work over all else, some people value life over all else and then there’s everyone inbetween. The problem with this debate is that no one talks about it with respect to their values.

If you value work above all else, you will be willing to sacrifice your family, friends, interests for it. For some, it’s in the hope of glory. They want to revolutionise the world, move humanity forward or simply create predatory financial instruments and become rich. For some, they actually just have nothing better to do. Part of the reason we have “tech bro” and “finance bro” memes is that its an all-encompassing identity for some. If your identity is that intertwined with your profession, it is easy to see how you end up valuing work most. And while I and many others disagree with such a value system, there’s nothing immoral with it.

If you’re in camp work-life balance, to some degree, you value your life. For many, they really only care about their life and work is just as a means to survive in this world of ours. They are willing to sacrifice the achievements of work (promotions, salary increases, creating value), in the name of preserving their lives. To the degree they’ll care about it is in service to living the lifestyle they want to live. The workaholics are right when they say this is likely to lead to a mediocre career. However, they don’t care. The underlying assumption, that work is a meaningful measurement of success, is not applicable to people with this value system.

Then of course, there’s the spectrum. I tend to be someone who values work slightly more than life. I’m happy to work long hours for the most part, I find a lot of joy in work and it helps keep me sane by preventing long bouts of boredom. That being said, sacrificing my life entirely is a showstopper. I’d become unhappy in no time. For others, they may value life more than work but still value work. And every other variation there is. It’s a spectrum, as is almost everything.

When having this discussion, we should absolutely discuss what we value. We will continue to misunderstand each other if we don’t.