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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Why there’s no such thing as work-life balance and what to do about it [Wise Wednesdays]

I’ve never been inspired by the idea of work-life balance. It sounds like a false dichotomy and an arbitrary one. It’s the product of a culture where we work too much, no?

Personally, I don’t separate between the personal and the professional. I prefer to talk about the vocational. Not in the religious or technical sense but as living from a sense of purpose and showing up in alignment with who I really am no matter what the situation – living my own inner-voice.

Vocation (n.) From the Latin vocationem literally "a calling, a being called".

Most of us, at least in the second half of life, are called to live with more integrity and authenticity, shedding external expectations and living from our own inner-voice. It can entail a radical career shift or showing up differently in the job and relationships you already have.

I had a conversation with a bright young lawyer last week who wants to shift into finance and was unsure about how to explain the shift in interviews. I asked him why he wanted to make the shift. He said that he was good at cross-referencing documents for loopholes and having an impact on deals. He also happened to care about climate change. I played with the ideas and suggested that next time someone asks him why he wants to do this job, he say something like this:

“One of the greatest concerns of my generation is climate change. I believe that with the right financial instruments we can create wealth and reduce our carbon footprint. Unlike most other leaders who are only focused on the big picture, I have an additional special talent for attention to detail. I have a hawk’s eye for shaping the contractual language that creates these financial instruments and can make the difference between billions lost in money, biodiversity and health through carelessness and true wealth. And I want to learn from the best along the way.”

He looked at me and said: damn, I wish I’d said that at the last interview. We both laughed.

Of course, it’s not easy to speak words that are fully aligned with who you are in a potentially hostile environment. There’s no guarantee his interviewers will resonate with what he says. But it’s more likely that they’ll respect him as an emerging leader and that he’ll find an organisation that’s a great match in due course.

In other words, speaking from your heart - your inner-voice - takes courage. But that’s how you can live a vocational life rather than have a job that pays and a personal life on the side that you try and balance. You can chase that kind of balance forever but it will never last.

The root of the word courage is cor - the Latin word for heart.

In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant "To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart." Over time, the definition of courage changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic deeds.

But you don’t need big heroic deeds. You just need to hear your inner-voice and take action from there. As a client reminded me last week, I help her remember and live knowing that freedom and happiness are the byproduct of living courageously from this place.

Have a good week,



p.s. If you’re ready to transform your career and life here are 4 options:

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