What’s the deal with work-life balance?

I often find it strange the obsession with work-life balance. Here we have a verb, to work, and a noun, life. Is it not odd that we have compartmentalized our lives into two categories?

1. either working (in an office, driving, lifting 50 pounds, using a scalpel) OR

2. “living” (eating, sleeping, watching TV, going for a walk, traveling, spending time with family)

I would argue that when you are working, you are also living (duh). When you lift that 50 pounds over your head like it says on your job description or getting on the train to the office, meeting with the ED of the company to present the latest project, or drowning yourself on Facebook because you quickly got through that assignment your boss gave you–you are very much alive and functioning. But are you aware? I believe this dichotomy inhibits our ability to be consciously aware of our surroundings, and do what we consider “work,” well.

Since we discussed this concept the other day in GEDI, I have been thinking about it in terms of the kitchen. To create another verb-noun analogy, I thought of the “cook-food balance.” In the kitchen, we are cooking or baking or attempting any various number of steps along the way to come to an end product: food. At first glance, it seems odd to compare a Life to food. Life has a series of meaningful physical, spiritual, and emotional events that we tag as either work or play. Food, unlike eating, also holds a series of events that may be considered meaningful by the seed guru and grower, producer, processor, distributor, cook, and/or consumer. Many many “work” steps occur before finally ending up on your plate for mere sustenance or in lovely cases, pleasure. So the food analogy could actually be presented as: step in food preparation(Work)-Food Balance.

I am currently experimenting with these stages in order to fully grasp the life of food. For my occupation, dare I say work, I am a farmer (grower), coffee roaster and home brewer (processor), coffee deliverer (distributor), line minion at a restaurant and an avid personal kitchen dweller (cook), a farmers market manager (organizer), and of course, albeit picky, an eater (consumer). For one thing, you can see right off the bat that “work” is irrelevant to me. I have balanced several tasks in order to occupy my time with food discovery…and I’m getting paid to do it. Perhaps I’m just lucky, but in reality, I work my ass off. I am, however, highly satisfied at the end of the day.

Anyways…the ___-Food Balance: an analogy to discredit the use of Work-Life Balance. Here is an example of Process-Food Balance. Take it or leave it.

Scenario 1: My supervisor turns the conveyor belt on and I watch the turkeys come towards me. My job in the line is to bleed the animals to be ready for the next part of the line, of which I am not quite sure what happens. The factory is currently operating a line that processes 60 turkeys per minute and my employers are talking about increasing this to 100 or more birds in the weeks to come. I am afraid of this because I am already hurting myself as I attempt to slit their throats as fast as possible. My knife becomes very dull after 20 minutes or so, and there is no time to sharpen it, so I often become overwhelmed, too slow, and end up jamming the knife into my fingers. The line continues regardless, though, which makes me feel sick to my stomach, thinking about the blood from my fingers getting mixed in with the turkey meat. When I go home after work, I go right to sleep as I am too disgusted to eat, too poor to buy nutritious food and know that I need to get back to the factory in a couple hours.

Scenario 2: Poultry processing at Polyface Farm in Swope, VA. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4P229ArpZA&feature=related. Please watch.

So, this post may seem a bit confusing, but I’ll break it down for you in this way: In both scenarios, the worker is processing poultry. In scenario 1, however, this individual’s work-life balance is heavily weighted towards work because of how it affects him/her when returning home for a short respite. No true balance exists here. In scenario 2 the worker has complete control of the equipment that this individual has engineered, and can slow down or speed up the process as he sees appropriate for his abilities. This worker has created a balanced system to complete the job (the final product: food).

Thus, if the work in our daily lives is too static or chaotic, we lose balance and become overwhelmed/ pressured/ stressed/sick/pained. If we begin to think about TIME as something to be filled with different meaningful and “agencied” tasks, instead of the dreaded WORK, we can fill our lives with an end product worth living for. The theory of work-life balance continues to resemble scenario 1 for me–that we must keep checking the box for 8+ hours/day, and try to do all we can to find relief afterwards–and sometimes it is impossible. Are we ever really living in this scenario? If finding relief is so critical to us at the end of the work day, perhaps we should rethink the things that we DO.

Certain socioeconomic or physical constraints may hold some of us back, you may argue…but, regardless of our situation, is it not true that we can live our lives as fully as we decide?



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