Work-life balance is not a new concept; everyone feels the pull between home and work. In a never-ending quest for the perfect work-life balance, however, we end up hurting ourselves. Let’s look at this issue through the lens of another, seemingly unrelated issue: scarcity mindset. When we look at the quest for balance in this light, we can see that often our quest is doomed from the start.
Is Wanting Work-Life Balance Making You Poor?
Two people can have the same job and income, but live very different lifestyles. One person may retire early as a millionaire, another may constantly struggle with debt and work beyond retirement age to make sure their debt isn’t passed on. Assuming both examples have the exact same salary, the key difference between them becomes their mindset.
Mindset is the most important part of managing your finances. That’s why our idea of work-life balance often does more harm than good. Seeking the perfect division between work and leisure makes us feel that time is scarce. We end up competing with ourselves as we constantly worry about spending the right amount of time at work or at home. This limited view is a form of scarcity mindset, and it can lead to damaged self-worth, lackluster relationships, and poor personal finances.
Work-Life Balance is Scarcity Mindset in Disguise
The concept of scarcity mindset was popularized by Stephen Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey compares scarcity mindset to a hungry person eyeing a slice of pie. This person is driven solely by their lack of food, and so in their eyes a bigger slice of pie for one means a smaller slice for someone else. This is the core danger of scarcity mindset – it’s defined by limits! People afflicted with scarcity mindset not only feel short on time, but also money, talent, health, etc. They obsess over their current lack of resources and thereby harm their ability to make long-term decisions.
This is the driving mindset behind work-life balance. Time becomes limited, and so to give time to work, we have to deny time to life, and vice versa. The ISOR Journal of business management published an article called “The Importance of Work-Life Balance,” detailing the stress employees feel when living with this worldview. People felt that “competing demands” meant they “did not have time for a personal life,” and so their job performance suffered from the exhaustion of trying to balance so much. If we similarly view our life as a constant quest to balance a scale, we risk the same outcomes.
Scarcity Mindset and Spending Sprees
Having (hopefully!) shown you how work-life balance becomes a form of scarcity mindset, let’s examine the consequences of such a limiting mindset. For starters, the same ISOR study showed that a lack of work-life balance led to increased risk of depression, substance abuse, and weight gain. However, a lack of work-life balance can also impact you fiscally – which can compound the aforementioned personal risks!
How many of those in debt can relate to this exact situation?
Working harder to pay off your debt, especially at a job you don’t enjoy, often feels like a never ending hamster race. That’s because scarcity mindset is driving us to make emotional, short-term decisions. We focus on what we don’t have, and so like the hungry man with a slice of pie, we want to eat the whole pie at once rather than sharing slices with friends or saving some for later.
Unfortunately, this is a good way to end up hungry again tomorrow. For money, “eating a whole pie” takes the form of splurges – little spending sprees that don’t fit in our budget, but we justify through the lens of work-life balance: “I’ve been working so hard, I deserve this,” “I just got my bonus, I can treat myself,” and perhaps most dangerously, “Work hard, play hard!”
If we view life as a constant quest for work-life equilibrium, we risk letting scarcity mindset consume us. We risk relying on emotional spending splurges that may give us a quick high, but are almost guaranteed to be followed by a “crash” when we realize that we’re again over budget, again forced to work extra hours, and have again upset that all important work-life balance.
The Rise of Work-Life Integration?
We all know we should become debt free, but the stress and guilt of not having that perfect work-life balance will often leave us with dangerous spending habits that can compound the problem. Instead of seeking perfect balance (which, let’s face it, is impossible), how about we focus on the meaningful way work supports our leisure?
No one can do this better than an entrepreneur. In terms of the perfect work-life scale, entrepreneurs are doing it all wrong. They are notorious for keeping long hours and making personal sacrifices for their jobs, and as a reward for their efforts they often have even less time and money than their corporate counterparts. However, they are also envied because of the fulfillment they gain through working.
Now, not everyone can just quit their steady job and become an entrepreneur, especially if you are struggling with debt. You can develop the abundance mindset of an entrepreneur, however. Entrepreneurs don’t seek that perfect work-life balance – they blend them! They ignore their current lack of time or money, and instead focus on the exciting future their work will create.
You don’t need to start your own company or work for a life-changing nonprofit for your work to have this kind of impact. You can achieve the same abundance focus by working towards a better, personal future. You know, the future where you get to retire early and be rich, happy, and debt-free!
It might seem very “woo-woo” to link workplace unhappiness to credit card debt, but it’s indisputable that becoming debt free requires enormous lifestyle changes. Why not use all the emotional tools at your disposal to help that change? Why not try changing your outlook?
What to Do Today
Even if you’re dependent on a stressful job to manage your debt, here are some simple habits that can shift your mindset from scarcity to abundance:
- Meditate on why you want to get out of debt. Imagine the abundance achieving your long-term goals will bring! Hold onto that feeling of abundance though your day by expressing gratitude for the choices that help you reach those goals and by giving generously to the friends and family in your life.
- Make use of the tools and technology available. Ask your boss if you can work remotely one or two days a week. See if there’s room to enjoy a family vacation by scheduling virtual half-days or dialing into conference calls during travel.
- Schedule intentional time away. One consequence of living in a largely digital world is that work easily intrudes on our home life. Even if you have to work extra hours, schedule time with people who help you to feel recharged and refreshed. When you have to go back to work, you’ll perform all the better for the time you intentionally stepped away.
- Be an entrepreneur on a small scale. Try monetizing a hobby! Turning a profit doesn’t have to be your goal. Even if the hobby simply pays for itself, that extra cash can relieve the feeling you constantly need to work. Plus, you’ll be busy making money instead of going out and spending it.
If we change our mindsets with simple steps like these, we’ll be able to overcome the scarcity mindset that has come to define work-life balance. This will help us form the habit we need to pay down debt, and take ownership of our personal and financial futures!