A common question that working professionals ask is: Do you have work-life balance? The way this question is framed can’t but get me to say that this is the wrong question to ask.
There are two implicit assumptions behind a question like this: One, work and life are mutually exclusive. The truth, however, is that there is life at work and there is life outside work. This implies that work is a subset of life and not something independent. So, if the question is about finding a balance between life at work and life outside work, then the question is at least framed correctly.
The second implicit assumption is that “work” is what you do for a living and mostly drudgery. I would tend to agree that the definition of work as what you do for a living is correct, but the part that it is mostly what you don’t enjoy is debatable.
A lot of the burnout that we are witnessing, and the craving for the elusive work-life balance is a result of people stuck in the wrong jobs. If you are in a job that you hate, and it troubles you to do it day in and day out, then burnout is inevitable. The fact that work-life balance has taken centre stage in recent years indicates that most people seem to be stuck in jobs they don’t enjoy doing.
On the contrary, if you are in a job that you love, then balance is irrelevant or is at least an easy goal to attain.
I have always maintained that what you do every day at work—and even the quality of the commute to work—is far more important than a high salary. This is for the simple reason that very soon the high salary is forgotten because it does not give you a pleasurable experience every day, unlike the quality of commute or the work you do. Happiness index is driven far more by daily doses of joy and ease of living than by a one-time deluge of any one factor like a windfall.
Therefore pick a job that you would like to do. Do not get carried away by what is considered cool or financially rewarding.
However, even jobs that you are passionate about can slowly become frustrating if they are monotonous or involve long hours. So, you need to address these two issues consciously and continually. You need to reinvent yourself and redefine the contours of your job as you go along so that there is something new and interesting.
You need to also figure out how to be more efficient in what you do. My belief is that if you work smartly and figure out whether you are solving the right problem or whether there are smarter ways of doing something, it would save you a lot of time. This is the biggest contributor to a balance between life at work and life outside work.
The last four years of my life have been the most eventful and fulfilling. I rediscovered myself at every step, explored new interests, met some amazing people, and created enduring relationships. This was possible because of two absolutely amazing women I met in 2015. They—Tanuja Tewari VP HR Bigbasket and Neelam Ahluwalia VP L&D Bigbasket—were the wind beneath my wings. With them I learned there is a big difference between trusting someone 95% and trusting someone 100%. By trusting them blindly I liberated myself. They soon learned how to do my job well. Even when they made a few mistakes, I didn’t step in despite expectations from some colleagues that I would. This helped them scale rapidly.
I also learned that I didn’t need to gather information and facts that didn’t help. I learned that trying to be well informed is such a waste of time especially if the sole purpose is to impress others. So, I stopped gathering information and focused on what I do well and what I thoroughly enjoy, namely problem solving. I also found the time to engage with the ecosystem and give back.
For those who do what they like every day at work, creating the balance is much easier. It’s all about learning the skills that make you more effective in your job and finding time for pursuits in life outside work. For those who do end up doing what they dislike every day at work there is really no hope of attaining balance because for them the question is not about balance. It’s about when they burn out!
T.N. Hari is head of human resources at Bigbasket.com and adviser to several venture capital firms and startups.