Achieving "Balance" vs The Cult of Overwork
Processing through my relationship with overwork. How to refocus life on what's important. Review on "How to Win at Work and Succeed at Life" by Michael Hyatt & Megan Hyatt Miller
Read Time: ~9m
You know that feeling of getting slammed with to-dos? When everyone is constantly pulling on your attention?
We all want to achieve more by doing less, but let's say you do find a way to "work smarter." Does it lead you to a place you hoped to be? Or still lacking fulfillment, do you find yourself back on the achievement treadmill?
Michael Hyatt & Megan Hyatt Miller propose a way off the treadmill, without sacrificing our ambition or family. They say the end game requires a reexamination in their new book, How to Win at Work and Succeed at Life.
The Problem of Work/ Life Balance
"The really tough choices . . . are genuine dilemmas because each side is firmly rooted in one of our basic, core values." - Rushworth Kidder
Everyone wants "balance" in their life, but it's easy to forget what balance actually is.
It's not setting down a task gently on one side of the scale, and putting just the right amount of stuff on the other side. Personal balance isn't something we leave unattended. It's a dynamic tension like riding a bike, and walking on a curb, tightrope, or slack-line.
We are in the center of a force pulling us one way or the other. We make decisions in the moment, and they signal which demands can pull on our at"tension" 😉
If we want to automate balance, we'll need to cultivate a high level of skill. This takes repeated practice. Then we can replace ourselves as the one manually holding center. But first, we need to know what we're working with...
With so many more people transitioning into remote work, tell me if this sounds familiar...
"The lines between my personal and professional life are blurring."
Back in 2016, Research by the Korea Labor Institute found smart devices add 11+ hours to the workweek, usually after hours. And without clear & intentional boundaries, this is only increasing.
Work creeps into 60+ hour weeks, and even when you're off, you're not really present.
If you're like me and love what you do...
It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking:
"It's for a good cause," or
"I'm doing this for someone else"
... which Michael Hyatt observes in the book, are classic phrases of the workaholic.
So "If [you let] passion drive you," as Benjamin Franklin says, at least "let reason hold the reins."
My passion as an athlete empowers me to train hard and play the game. By letting my reason drive, I can be mindful of overtraining injuries. I can then adjust my schedule for skill, strength, and rest for muscle recovery.
As a professional, overworking means overtraining.
I need to treat my mind as an athlete treats muscles. Without adjusting overwork habits, many people discover burnout and high health risks.
The Hustle Fallacy & the Ambition Brake
As the hours and to-dos stack up, we say, "if we just crank a little harder, we can push past all the pressure. By mastering our productivity, we can catch up—maybe even get ahead."
The Result? We get rewarded with more work and fall deeper into the Hustle Fallacy. There is always more to do, so doing it better/ faster isn't a very helpful long-term answer.
This is exactly why the other extreme pulls on the Ambition Brake. Refusing to sacrifice health or relationships, they intentionally throttle back their career.
The Result? Unused potential, reduced income, unfulfilled dreams and ambitions. All crushing our souls until we self-actualize in retirement.
So where does this leave us?
Working smarter and self-limiting aren't effective intentions. Instead, "we must imagine a different destination, and then change our course to get there."
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The Cult of Overwork (and why we join)
So whether we throw our balance off into work, or into life - understanding the reason why this happens will help us avoid these same mistakes in the future.
While the book naturally goes much deeper, here's a few reasons that stood out to me...
Work is —can you believe it?— Fun!
Some people may not enjoy their work, but I've tried to be fairly intentional with what I get involved in.
I'm not talking about passion careers though. As Cal Newport observes, if our passions are fleeting emotions, what happens when they leave? Instead, he suggests "following your grunt." By focusing on developing good skills, we may start to enjoy it, receive praise, or cultivate a new passion. This overlap between skills and passion is the key, especially as it's in service to others - but that's another topic.
As modern artisans, we're proud of our work. Soon enough, we find ourselves working with other talented people solving complex, interesting problems - and it is fun!
I may say "I'm working to help others," or "It's important work," and that may even be true. But if I do just enjoy the work itself, there's nothing wrong with that.
Where it does become an issue, is when I over-prioritize this work hobby I enjoy, with absurd hours and sacrifice relationships. At that point, too much of a good thing means I'm just being selfish.
Even if other people don't speak up, or they sacrifice their own value by saying my work is more important than them. It's my responsibility to care for the people around me by stepping up first, with healthy boundaries.
When our work is our hobby, we can cut out some of the core domains of life without realizing it.
Definable Wins & The Experience of Flow
"Work not only contains clear goals that let us leverage our skills, but also includes feedback to assess our performance along the way. Not so in other areas of life, where we never really know if we’re winning or not." - Michael Hyatt
This clear sense of achievement enables us to tap more easily into flow. "In states of flow, we are fully focused on the task at hand. We stop being self-conscious; time sails by. We are absorbed by the moment and what it requires of us." As the author of Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says, these moments "result from clear, challenging goals requiring our best thinking and effort to accomplish.
His studies also indicate "people experience flow more than half their working hours." Which Michael adds, is "especially true for people who have been able to eliminate, automate, and delegate away the distractions and drudgery of their jobs."
Avoidance & Numbing
Because non-work activities often don't have the same performance indicators as work or games (wouldn't it be great though if life had health bars and level up meters though?) - It's easier to neglect or see tasks like home chores or relationships as less important. This of course isn't true, and simply requires a different type of attention.
Brene Brown talks about instant gratification and numbing pitfalls as well. The most discussed ones are drugs and alcohol, but they can also include social scrolling, emotional eating, or even harmless activities like work or games to feel a quick win.
If our intention for engagement is to escape or seek validation, she suggests instead, to take a pause and press into the real issue.
By deciding not to deal with our emotions, or running from a situation, we actually hold ourselves back from experiencing our authentic self.
Status & Value Signaling
Some high achievers and workaholic executives brag out 80+ hr work weeks like it's a badge of honor.
On a conscious level, I have resistance toward this. It feels like the person either...
Wasn't trusting enough to delegate,
Wasn't responsible enough to prioritize meaningful work over distractions, or
Didn't care enough about others to set boundaries.
Yet having caught myself doing this at times, I must've been operating on a subconscious level. It may even be true and I'm looking for sympathy, or subtly asking for praise help to escape the treadmill.
Escaping the Cult of Overwork
It's natural to want to move away from disappointment and toward achievement. However if we only chase fun and happiness as a hedonist, we'll ultimately be alone.
Without boundaries and clear intentions, these are just a few reasons why we may once again find ourselves disappointed.
As Michael is sure to encourage us, "the rest of our lives might be less fun and offer fewer opportunities for flow and personal significance. But whatever the reason you’re driven to elevate work above the other domains of your life, it’s never too late to restore your balance. Or find it for the very first time."
5 Principles of the Double Win
"Winning at Work gives us the confidence, joy, and financial support necessary to support our personal priorities. Succeeding at Life fosters a clear mind, creativity, and a rested body so we can focus on the work that matters most." - Michael Hyatt
So what are some steps we can take to bring awareness and transition our end game toward the Double Win?
1. Work is one of many ways to orient your life.
Life is multi-dimensional, which means success is too.
In my language, I would say most of us over focus on the Finance bubble in life. It's also essential for us to engage in our Future (hobbies in this case), Fitness and Family.
One of the reasons I started this blog to explore the relationship of the 5 Bubbles in my life. The fifth bubble, which actually orients us towards all other domains, is Faith.
By re-defining success from work achievements, to the identity we hold, our behaviors and lifestyle balance start to change as well.
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2. Constraints offer creativity, productivity, & freedom
For the athlete, right and left are very clear indicators. When we play our game, we need the rules to know we won. Even if told to show up in an empty field, we invent constraints to order a game of tag or kick around a ball without using our hands.
In our lives, we need to set intentions and boundaries as constraints. We devote attention to capture finite resources like time, money, energy, and willpower - but then we need to spend it. Constraints force us to make choices, which free up our thinking. If we're responsible, we use this extra space to then focus on the bigger priorities.
Even when we love something, we set an intentional constraint to prioritize attention in that direction. Ignoring natural constraints leads us to trouble, but by recognizing their existence we can use them to excel in all domains of life.
Sometimes this comes from removing restraints, but it also comes from intentionally self-limiting. In this way, we can even model after God. He gave up his divine privileges, humbled himself as a human in Jesus, and instead of asserting his power or control over others, he washed their feet.
3. Work/Life balance is truly possible
Remember, balance doesn’t mean perfect proportion or perfect alignment. Personal balance is a dynamic tension like walking a tightrope, slackline, or curb.
There will always be some give and take in our life, so we need to focus first on our own line.
4. There is incredible power in non-achievement
This one is honesty the biggest challenge for me, and I'm still processing through it.
I recognize not everything has an ROI in the short term, and some efforts we never get to see the results. In fact, many of our most enriching activities are an achievement in themselves - "Hobbies, art, child-rearing, friendships, wine, crafts, games and more"
For me, this sounds like the pursuit of the infinite game. To make steps toward this direction, and give proper attention to areas of value, I still like to make even the immeasurable measure. Yet if the metric overpowers the objective, the effort is wasted. Which I think is why this principle is so important.
5. Rest is the foundation of meaningful productive work
If we’re not careful, we may view sleep as the enemy - rather than the superpower it is. Proper sleep rejuvenates the mind and powers performance.
If we want to invest in deep work, or deep love, we also require deep rest.
Deliberate rest takes intention.
How Can You Achieve Your own Double Win?
Again, I started this blog so I could take a more active reflection on the content that informs my worldview.
I'm still navigating through this road myself, but the concept of the Double Win has already started shifting my Life Philosophy in a profound way, and am excited to share more details soon.
In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you! By identifying our limitations, we can start taking steps to recalibrate.
💬👇 What line or concept stood out to you the most?
💬👇 What area of life do you feel is holding you back the most?
💬👇 If you're an incredibly driven person, why do you feel this is the case?
Any other questions, concerns, compliments? Let me know in the comments!
PS. I can't see your face, but would love to hear your voice!
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