Posted by: Mike Willoughby | October 5, 2010

Work-Life Balance? (Part 1)

One of the implications of the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries was the compartmentalization of life into “work” and “personal” categories.  Prior to this time, a person’s work or trade was an integral part of their life.  One could hardly separate “Mike the blacksmith” from “Mike the regular guy” as Mike interacted with other members of his society.  The industrial revolution tended to view workers as just additional resources in the manufacturing process that needed to be allocated and managed.  The natural result was the dehumanization of human professional effort as people began to feel more and more like cogs in the middle of giant impersonal manufacturing machines.  Although there were successful efforts during the 20th century to correct the abuses of the industrial revolution that created sweat shops, unfair wages and the equivalent of indentured servitude, we still suffer from the hang-over of that time period.  I believe one of the most persistent elements of that hang-over is the compartmentalization of life.

Today our economy has shifted to more of a service model and most of us have seen the lines between work and personal life blurred by technology and mobility.  I may spend 30-40 hours per week in meetings, working sessions and conference calls from our corporate headquarters in Plano, but there are countless other hours devoted to “work” as I travel for business development purposes, visit other company facilities and just respond to the challenges and opportunities of my company’s “Always On” culture.  This blurring of the lines certainly creates challenges as we struggle to prioritize and reprioritize the way we spend each waking hour of the day.  Back in the day, professionals and blue-collar workers alike could allocate Monday through Friday from the hours of eight to five to work and the remainder of the week was available for personal time.  Now with the flexibility many of us enjoy with flex-time schedules and work-at-home plans, we may be attending a school band performance on Wednesday at 10:00a and working on a sales presentation on Saturday afternoon.  Work, family, ministry, recreation and reflection all merge and compete for our time with only a few fixed guidelines to help us achieve balance.  If I rely on the old methods of compartmentalization, I run the risk of the work component swallowing up all my time and attention and the result is a life out-of-balance.  The answer is not to be found in a carefully managed day-planner or Outlook calendar although these tools are helpful for maintaining sanity.  I believe finding a place where life feels “in balance” requires a different approach and a different outlook than the traditional segmented view that has persisted in the Western model for the last 150 years.  I don’t believe the answer is found in a formula – I believe the answer is found in a life.  I believe the life of Jesus provides a good model for us to examine in seeking balance.  It is comforting to me to know that he struggled at times to achieve balance!

First, I think we need to re-examine the way we view the time we are “at work.”  Even the term “work-life balance” implies that work is different and separate from life.  I think we need to consider returning to a more integrated view of professional life and personal life.  Consider that for most of us, a work day is made up of hundreds or perhaps thousands of human interactions.  The more service-oriented our economy becomes, the more interactions we can expect.  Real life happens at work every day!

For a moment let me brag on my friend, Jason.  Jason works in an intensely service-oriented business where hundreds of folks per week come to Jason to have their cars repaired.  Many times, these car repairs are unanticipated and unwanted and these people are unhappy to be seeing him.  Because Jason has an integrated view of life and work, he takes every opportunity for interaction to minister to hurting people.  He provides a quick and effective diagnosis, complete transparency and honesty in an industry not known for either, impeccable customer service and a personal touch that provides comfort and peace.  The more emotional the situation, the more Jason is sensitive and compassionate.  A frazzled mom with a broken van and three kids in tow can expect her interaction with Jason to result in smiling kids, a van quickly back on the road and he’ll even hold the baby and strap the kids in the car seat when they all leave.  If life really seems to be spinning out of control, he will also offer to pray for a person in pain and he’ll absolutely point them to a church family that is ready to minister to all their needs.  Jason treats each of his customers like we all wish our health care providers would treat us – with personalized care and compassion! 

I believe Jesus would recognize Jason’s model because it is the same way Jesus “took care of business.”  For Jesus, every interaction was filled with care and compassion and no opportunity for ministry was missed.  Each of us also has opportunity for ministry with every human interaction at work.  In my experience, words of encouragement, compassion, understanding and care work with employees, supervisors, customers, partners and vendors in any work setting.  You don’t need permission to perform works of service in the workplace and in this way integrate your ministry life with your professional life. 

Perhaps a more integrated view of life and work will help you feel more balanced without making other adjustments.  However, many of us are still challenged as we deal with the prioritization of work and the other elements of a healthy life.  Jesus certainly recognized the need for balance in life and he adjusted his schedule on-the-fly to achieve balance for himself and his associates.  Next week, I will spend some time reflecting on how Jesus pulled off life balance amidst a hectic and unpredictable ministry schedule.  Do you think Jesus had time for fun and recreation?  You might be surprised to find out the answer and how people responded to a rabbi that challenged the conventions of his time.  Maybe it’s time for us to challenge some conventions! 

Until next week,

Meet me at the intersection!

Previous Intersections Articles
My Friend Mulligan Winding Roads Story-Telling


  1. Mike, thank you for sending this to me. We have to take the time to be servents, and not let the world consume us. Appreciate you, and your family, and the work that you do in the Church. Put me on the list for future intersections.

  2. Mike, I love the message; life and work is something that I struggle with daily. Thanks for the kind words and I’m humbled by your comments.

  3. Mike, thank you for adding me to the distribution list. Balance is not a one-time achievement. It is a constant flow of minor corrections as you keep focused on the ultimate goal; and making sure I have focused on the correct ultimate goal. Thanks again. Keep me on the reminder list. Thank you!

  4. So nice to take a moment and read some inspiration I feel so out of control with so many demands and this offers a soothing moment to reflect keep in touch

  5. Thank you for sending this to me. I enjoyed this and “My Friend Mulligan” also.

  6. Thanks for adding me to the list. Please keep the the insights and widsom coming. May God continue to bless all through your writing.

  7. Wonderful article, good reminder to not let one part of this life consume all others. Excellent example in Jason, too! He is a genuine person who cares for others. Thank you!

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