Day #865:The Quest for Happiness and Work-life Balance

There’s an interesting story told in Paulo Coelho’s seminal work The Alchemist. One of the best books written in this century.

Now, the story goes:

A merchant sent his son to learn the Secret of Happiness from the wisest of men. The young man wandered through the desert for forty days until he reached a beautiful castle at the top of a mountain. There lived the sage that the young man was looking for.
However, instead of finding a holy man, our hero entered a room and saw a great deal of activity; merchants coming and going, people chatting in the corners, a small orchestra playing sweet melodies, and there was a table laden with the most delectable dishes of that part of the world.

The wise man talked to everybody, and the young man had to wait for two hours until it was time for his audience.
With considerable patience, the Sage listened attentively to the reason for the boy’s visit, but told him that at that moment he did not have the time to explain to him the Secret of Happiness.
He suggested that the young man take a stroll around his palace and come back in two hours’ time.
“However, I want to ask you a favor,” he added, handling the boy a teaspoon, in which he poured two drops of oil. “While you walk, carry this spoon and don’t let the oil spill.”
The young man began to climb up and down the palace staircases, always keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. At the end of two hours he returned to the presence of the wise man.
“So,” asked the sage, “did you see the Persian tapestries hanging in my dining room? Did you see the garden that the Master of Gardeners took ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?”
Embarrassed, the young man confessed that he had seen nothing. His only concern was not to spill the drops of oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.
“So, go back and see the wonders of my world,” said the wise man. “You can’t trust a man if you don’t know his house.”
Now more at ease, the young man took the spoon and strolled again through the palace, this time paying attention to all the works of art that hung from the ceiling and walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around the palace, the delicacy of the flowers, the taste with which each work of art was placed in its niche. Returning to the sage, he reported in detail all that he had seen.
“But where are the two drops of oil that I entrusted to you?” asked the sage.
Looking down at the spoon, the young man realized that he had spilled the oil.

“Well, that is the only advice I have to give you,” said the sage of sages. “The Secret of Happiness lies in looking at all the wonders of the world and never forgetting the two drops of oil in the spoon.”

The Hunt for Happiness via Worklife Balance

This story captures the daily conundrum that beset our lives as young and old professionals alike. We are trying to build a life where we have a successful career, a happy home, make a lot of money to take care of our family. At the same time contribute to society, become close to God or practice your faith, stay physically in shape and live a healthy life. The demands on us are growing with each passing day and we are faced daily with decisions that could make or mar our lives in the long run. Should you spend that extra hour to fine tune that presentation or meet up with your girlfriend for the date night? We can’t let any of those parts of our lives fail. Otherwise, all the successes we have recorded in every other aspect becomes irrelevant. You hear and read about  a lot of successful people in their careers and financially who are obese and risk suffering a heart attack or highly successful people who are divorced and barely talk to their kids. Our lives then, is almost like juggling 4-5 burning coals or more and we can’t afford to drop any.

So how do you get hold of it? How do you set up your life in a way that allows for balance? For sure, the work-life balance I am referring to here is not about allocating equal amount of time to every aspect of your life, it is about having a system that allows you give enough time and attention to every area of your life. The four key part most books have talked about are: Physical Body (Beneficial eating, exercising, and resting) ,Relationships (Making social and meaningful connections with others ) , Work / Career / Mission, (How you make a difference, lead and influence others) Spiritual (expanding spiritual self through meditation, music, art, prayer, or service) .

There are two approaches I will like to propose here; 1). Achievement and Enjoyment Meter, 2).The Ideal Work.

1.Achievement and Enjoyment

One article on asserts that the core of an effective work-life balance definition are two key everyday concepts that are relevant to each of us. They are daily Achievement and Enjoyment, ideas almost deceptive in their simplicity.

“Achievement and Enjoyment answer the big question “Why?” Why do you want a better income…a new house…the kids through college…to do a good job today…to come to work at all?
Most of us already have a good grasp on the meaning of Achievement. But let’s explore the concept of Enjoyment a little more. As part of a relevant Work-Life Balance definition, enjoyment does not just mean “Ha-Ha” happiness. It means Pride, Satisfaction, Happiness, Celebration, Love, A Sense of Well Being …all the Joys of Living.
Achievement and Enjoyment are the front and back of the coin of value in life. You can’t have one without the other, no more than you can have a coin with only one side. Trying to live a one sided life is why so many “Successful” people are not happy, or not nearly as happy as they should be.

You cannot get the full value from life without BOTH Achievement and Enjoyment. Focusing on Achievement and Enjoyment every day in life helps you avoid the “As Soon As Trap”, the life dulling habit of planning on getting around to the joys of life and accomplishment “as soon as….”

2.The Ideal Work

In the HBR article by Clayton Christensen: How will You Measure Your Life?, Clayton cites Frederick Herzberg’ theory that powerful motivator in our lives isn’t money; it’s the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, contribute to others, and be recognized for achievements. Without realizing it, we think making money is our primary motivator in life and most of us choose jobs and opportunities based on how much they pay. This is not entirely bad. We need money to take care of ourselves and our families and to help people in our lives. However, we must know that our lives are not strictly speaking ours. We will find through lasting happiness in our work if we find work that helps us grow and contribute to other people’s lives.

Once we find work that enables us grow personally and add meaning to the lives of people around us, we are half way through the work-life balance conundrum. If we feel fulfilled and appreciated everyday at work, we will be in better frame of mind when we get home to our families. A job that is not fulfilling and makes you feel unappreciated everyday has an impact on your relationship with your spouse and family members.

In the end, having work life balance depends on creating a strong value system that helps us select what is more meaningful to us. Which in my opinion is, doing work that helps us grow, contribute to other people’s lives and pays us enough to achieve our deep desires and take care of our families. Work that gives us enough emotionally energy at the end of everyday to spend time with our families, dedicated time to our physical health and well being and fulfilling our obligations to our communities. That for me is the perfect well balanced life.

I can’t write enough about this. If your work doesn’t give you opportunity to grow and contribute to the lives of people around you and drains you emotionally at the end of everyday that you don’t have enough energy to share with family and friends, it’s time to change jobs before the job changes or kills you.

This article is long. I apologize for that. It’s part of a weekly newsletter I share with a group of friends every Sunday. If you will like to receive such articles in your inbox, write me at with Subject ” Add Me to Design Your Life Newsletter”.

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