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The “Work/Life Balance” Concept Assumes Work Isn’t Life

Certainly our national conversation about the importance of a healthy work/life balance was meant to reduce workaholism and improve the quality of our lives. It is however a built on a bizarre fallacy that somehow work isn’t life. This is a distortion that diminishes the possible joys of work, and dismissing the difficulties we sometimes encounter in the hours we aren’t earning income.

The negative impact of this mental framework was highlighted to me by my son during his years in grade school. He wasn’t a big fan, and questioned me one day, asking “So what, first you have to go to school forever so then you can work forever? That is a waste of life”! 

I balled my eyes out that night about the fact that I had clearly communicated work and school, as well as chores and responsibilities in general, as essentially and exclusively burdens. Somehow I had failed to communicate other truths: 

Work hours and hours we are not working for money have different qualities. Having said that there is also lots of overlap, as there should be. 

There is a darker purpose to the original intention of separating our work and home selves. If people manage to leave their feelings and their values and their ethics at home, it is much easier to get them to rip off customers, dump pollutants in the water, sell out colleagues, and the like. At a personal level, people can choose to use work to escape the hardships of their home life, and script their responsibilities to family. If you haven’t seen the show Severance, it is a great dramatization of a complete split/severance between work and home!

In my own life, I wasted a lot of time imagining life was about the moments in-between work and chores. Somehow I thought life was only the moments of relaxation, play, friends, vacations and downtime. I love all those things, but those are very few hours of my day/life. I spent a lot of time resenting the other hours. Over the years I have learned to access all the nuggets of goodness available throughout my days. 

Because I work from myself, and primary out of my home, I choose a leisurely pace. I might doodle around in an art journal in the morning, do some professional reading, see a few clients, pre-prepare dinner, clean up the kitchen, see a couple clients, do some gardening, enjoy a shower, hang with my kid, eat an early dinner, and see a couple more clients. I enjoy activities like cooking and gardening, even though sometimes they are tinged with burden. Work sometimes feels tedious, at least before sessions, but then feel engaging, poignant and gratifying. I appreciate that few people have the kind of flexibility to create a daily flow similar to mine. It is essential however that we build the intention to have an integrated life.


Smith is an analytically oriented psychotherapist with 25 years in practice. She is additionally the Founder/Director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which specializes in matching clients with seasoned clinicians in the Greater Philadelphia Area.

If you are interested in therapy and live in Philadelphia or the Greater Philadelphia Area, please let Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice match you with a skilled, experienced psychotherapist based on your needs and issues as well as your and own therapists' personalities and styles. All of our therapists are available for telehealth conferencing by phone or video in response to our current need for social distancing.

For more or related topics in blog and video blog, follow the links below:

Life Isnt Easy or Fair: Idealization Tortures Us Thinking It Should Be 

Perfectionism Ruins the Good for You and Everyone Around You

Feeling Depressed Inst Depression and Other Reasons Your Advise Is Stupid


Full Living Founder and Director Karen L. Smith MSS, LCSW Karen L. Smith MSS LCSW Karen is the founder and director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which provides thoughtful matches for clients seeking therapists in the Philadelphia Area. She provides analytically oriented psychotherapy, and offers education for other therapists seeking to deepen and enriching their work with object relation concepts.

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