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work_life_balance_sign(MCT)—Whenever I hear the term work-life balance, I picture a giant, old-fashioned scale. On one side, there’s work: a desk, a computer, a phone and customers. On the other side, there’s life: a house, a television, a family and friends. The two sides tilt back and forth precariously. (And if you did something like add a dog to the “life” side, you could lose your balance entirely.)

This notion never seemed like a game that I could win, and lately it has become clear that work-life balance, as a concept, has a couple of flaws.

First, despite everyone’s good intentions, work-life balance has become polite code for working less. As a phrase, it is never used to signal, “Hey, I have way too much leisure time, and I would like to balance that out with some more challenging work.”

And the problem with focusing on working less is that it makes work the bad guy.

For a great many people, work is not just something we do to earn a living. Work is far more than a paycheck or a means to an end. It is, rather, an expression of one’s gifts, talents and strengths and an important anchor for our place in the world and relationship to others. And when we relegate work to the role of a necessary evil, that’s when it starts to become problematic.

It’s sort of like food. We all have to eat to stay alive, just like most of us have to earn money to keep a roof over our heads. But what if there was a problem with the food? What if it didn’t taste good or wasn’t nutritious? One response to flavorless food could be to eat less, or to only eat the minimum amount you needed. But a different response could be to fix the food.

So if work doesn’t feel good, remember that you have options. Yes, you can set boundaries around your work or seek to work less. But you also can strive to fix the work. Whether you are a bartender or a building inspector or a business owner, it is possible for your work to feed both your bank account and your soul.

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