Balance is Bunk!

It's the central myth of the modern workplace: With a few compromises, you can have it all. But it's all wrong, and it's making us crazy. Here's how to have a life anyway.

This is page 3 of the article, "Balance is Bunk!"

Balance Is for Fat People

Pavan Vishwakarma is a 25-year-old freelance Web and e-commerce software developer. He lives and works in Bhopal, India, but he has done work for companies in Illinois, Nevada, and Canada. And he has, as he advertises, "no working hours limitation. I can work up to any stretch of time."

You want balance? Vishwakarma doesn't, particularly. He wants to work, and he'll work cheap — a lot cheaper than you will.

The global economy is antibalance. For as much as Accenture and Google say they value an environment that allows workers balance, they're increasingly competing against companies that don't. You're competing against workers with a lot more to gain than you, who will work harder for less money to get the job done. This is the dark side of the "happy workaholic." Someday, all of us will have to become workaholics, happy or not, just to get by.

Tom Patterson has spent the last year setting up a technology operations center in Hyderabad, India, for MarketTools, the Mill Valley, California, marketing-research company where he's senior vice president of technology and operations. And he has been stunned by what he sees there.

"I'm amazed at the work ethic," he says. "People are hungry, entrepreneurial, and willing to do whatever it takes at great sacrifices. These kids are working for a change in economic status. Things that we take for granted like housing, health care, vacations — this is what they're looking at. And the difference to them between $6,000 a year and $10,000 is huge."

Protest, if you like, against labor exploitation or unfair competition. The reality is, workers in India, China, Brazil, and, inevitably, everywhere else aren't stopping long to worry about it. They make our developed-world notion that workers actually are entitled to balance seem quaintly dated.

For years, work-life advocates have held up as a model the "work to live" ethic of Europeans, who historically have toiled fewer hours than Americans. But those would-be paragons are failing, too. The French government is reconsidering its decision in 2000 to reduce the national workweek to 35 hours. And two of Germany's largest companies, Siemens AG and DaimlerChrysler, have (with popular support) won union concessions that will force longer hours for employees.

If you're competing against Pavan Vishwakarma — and ultimately, we all are — you can't have both a big paycheck and reasonable hours. The laws of economics won't allow it. If we want time with our families, time to give back to our communities, time to stay slim, we're going to have to accept a pay cut — and even then, we'll have to work darned hard. Hungry beats fat, every time.

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  • Bchlady

    As the wife of an executive this article has me question my own expectations.  I have expected balanced and really I admit it is ridiculous.  Here is what we can do:  Work hard and play hard.  Notice your own productivity and when it becomes weak look at breaks/vacation even if just a day midweek/ early off day, quality time with family or by yourself if that's what it takes to refill your tank.    It's like a marriage . . . . you both can't call love rowing 100%  Sometimes he rows zero and you 100% but over a committed relationship of years, balance is the average measurement of 50/50 so look for the silver lining.

  • Peng Ge

    Talking about "competing against Pavan Vishwakarma", it only means we shouldn't compete with him (them) in the fields that everyone can pick up easily, like web development. There are other fields/jobs that cannot be outsourced, thus still give out big paycheck with reasonable hours, if only you figure out what they are. ;)

  • Peng Ge

    I think the freelance web developer was just working under-capacity and trying to get more jobs to work with, thus the extreme advertisement.

    And since free-lance web developers are in surplus nowadays, I doubt how much such "ad" would help his business. ^_^