Everyone is obsessed with finding the perfect work-life balance. Personally, I reject the whole concept.
Because to me, the expression “work-life balance” implies that work and life are opposed to one another. It suggests that work is just the grubby business of earning money, while everything really meaningful in your existence is found elsewhere in the life part. I simply cannot accept that point of view.
In Japan, we don’t see work and life as mutually exclusive opposites. We see work as part and parcel of life. To me, that’s just common sense. After all, work provides so much that is emotionally and intellectually meaningful beyond just money.
Work enables you to exercise your talents, improve your skills, and develop broader perspectives. It enables you to grow as a person and to meet and make new friends. Work is stimulating. Work is fun. The idea of life without work may seem appealing at times of extreme work stress; in reality, though, it would be crushingly boring.
Obviously, working far too much is not a good idea. After the collapse of Japan’s bubble economy in the early 1990s, karoshi (death from overwork) became a social problem here as businesspeople tried to face down the slump by working impossibly long hours. Recently, the problem has begun showing up in the west: in 2013, a 21-year-old intern at an investment bank in London died after working for three days with no sleep.
In these tragic cases, the division between work and life went to a horrible extreme. Work and life fought a battle, work won, and life was literally destroyed.
This old binary framework of work vs. life is unhelpful, even destructive. Instead, I would encourage everyone to embrace work as just one dimension of a multi-dimensional life.
Several years ago, I wrote a book called The Six Dimensions of Life. In it, I argued that life consists of six dimensions: 1) your self, 2) your family, 3) your work, and beyond that the 4) local, 5) regional, and 6) global communities to which you belong.
Let me explain how it works.
THE SELF: It may sound egotistical, but ultimately your self is the most important thing you have. Unless you’re mentally and physically healthy, you won’t be able to perform properly in any aspect of your life. That’s why I swim, snowboard, and hike to keep my self fit and energetic. It’s important to take care of No. 1!
THE FAMILY: As a son, a husband, and a father of five boys, my family is my greatest responsibility and my greatest source of happiness. Since the family group is small, the level of personal responsibility is proportionately high. Your family is the one place where you are genuinely indispensable.
WORK: I’m the president of a business school and a venture capital firm. I am responsible to the students, employees, faculty, shareholders, investors, portfolio companies, etc., rather like an extended family. Through exercising my responsibilities, I get to improve my leadership abilities, communication skills, and management capabilities—not to mention the opportunity to make friends and meet interesting people. The greater the responsibility you have, the greater the satisfaction you get.
LOCAL COMMUNITY/COUNTRY: As a citizen of Japan, I do my best to contribute to the national community. I’m trying to help revive the earthquake-devastated northeast through an NGO and an investment fund. I’m an adviser to Prime Minister Abe on educational reform and established an annual conference on Japan’s politics and economy. As citizens, we should take part in the political process and speak up to counteract the influence of interest groups and the professional political class.
THE REGION: Since I’m Japanese, my regional identity is Asian. I try to contribute to Asia through the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), a business network with over 11,000 entrepreneurs in 48 countries. I helped set up many of EO’s chapters in Asia. We also get Asian entrepreneurs and academics to participate in our conferences. Europe is united; let’s hope Asia can achieve something similar.
THE WORLD: I also do my best to be a good global citizen. I attend the World Economic Forum at Davos every year and belong to several of its councils and committees. I’m on the global advisory council of the Wilson Centre, a Washington-based think tank. We have now come full circle. Starting from my self, I’m now trying to contribute on a global scale.
As you can see from this lightning tour, work is just one of six dimensions of life for me. At the same time, work is very much a part of my life, not something external and hostile to it.
How do you position work in your life?
Does my “six dimension” framework feel relevant to you?
Are you ready to forget about work-life balance and join me in the quest for work-in-life balance instead?