Meaning is not zero-sum

Rick Turoczy wrote an article about the role of meaning in the Work-Life balance equation. Rick suggests that finding meaning in your life (in his words “an occupation that fulfills you”) is a substitute for a work-life balance. I happen to fundamentally disagree with his point. Unenjoyable activites lead to a poor life

From the post:

It’s not a problem of how much time you spend with meaning, it’s about how much time you spend without meaning.

The subtext here is that it doesn’t matter how happy you are for the rest of your day, unhappy moments drain the meaning from your life. There are any number of less-than-enjoyable activities that we engage in daily life, be it exercise or commuting. This isn’t to say that these make your days awful. We use exercise to feel healthier, extending our potential for happiness (our lifespan). Commuting aids us, even if hating your work is a given, by providing a paycheck in which we can further our own lives’ priorities.

Temporary dissatisfaction can be used for a net gain of happiness. This is akin to spending your money (a stand-in for short-term happiness) on investments which deliver more money in the future. With wise choices (or blind luck), this can yeild a greater amount of money than the original amount. So too with happiness can we sacrifice in the short-term to reap dividends over time. Its not Work-Life balance, but priority balancing

Rick wrote:

Work-life balance is not the problem. The problem is lack of meaning.

I think this is short-sighted. There is a legitimate reason to think about work-life balance and that’s when you have multiple priorities. For instance, I value personal development (both in my career and otherwise) as well as spending time with my wife. Put another way, work-life balance is the method of balancing your priorities. For most, this is getting money vs doing the things you’d prefer to be doing, but it stands even at a closer inspection. If my priorities are to lose weight and to get rich, I can’t spend 100% of my income on fad diets as that would be at the expense of my other goals. A balance needs to be achieved.

I feel in this regard, its important to think of priorities not as a flat stack-ranking, but rather as ratios that shift over time. At any given time, I have some number of priorities that represent a small percentage of my overall goals. Some of these are small (“read more”) and some are big (“save for retirement”), but they are all part of being a well rounded human-being. To focus too intently on any one does a disservice to the rest. I think the adage that best expresses this sentiment is “Everything in moderation (including moderation).”

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