Hard Truth: 'Work-Life' Balance Is Way Overrated

By Marty Nemko

Most people view life's goal is to be happy. I believe that's misguided.

If the goal is happiness, one could, for example, spend all your time gardening, watching comedies, having sex, etc. Yet if everyone did that, the planet would be far worse: Patients would die, homes wouldn't get built and products wouldn't be invented.

Not A Worthy Goal

Mother Teresa didn't work in the stench of Calcutta streets, ankles bitten by scorpions, because it made her happy. She did so because helping humankind was far more important than her being happy. Cardiologists who choose to work nights and weekends to keep more patients alive realize their life is more meaningful than if they had opted for the vaunted work-life balance. Even the supposedly lowly payroll clerk, who after the standard workweek takes work home to ensure everyone is paid accurately and on-time, is living a far worthier life than someone who diverted that time to recreation.


And as I said in a recent interview with Business Insider, contrary to what advocates of work-life balance claim, long work hours do not lead to burnout. Indeed, as long as you're doing work you're good at and believe in, you'll likely be more energized from long work weeks than if you spent the discretionary time playing sports, watching the boob tube, or even the current fad, doing yoga.

What Hard Work Has Taught Me

I'll be 63 years old next month and have been working 60 to 80 hours a week for my entire life, since I was a young teen. I cannot claim to be a happy person. Like my father, I believe I'm constitutionally inclined toward mild sadness. But I know that my life has been more worthwhile for having forgone work-life balance in favor of having had 4,000 career counseling clients, written seven books, and over 2,000 how-to and public policy articles and blog posts.



I will continue to work until I drop in the service of things that I believe will make the world better. I do want to drop dead at this keyboard. A silly canard is, "No one ever died wishing they spent more time at the office." Indeed, most of the most contributory people I know want to spend as much time as possible working.