Forget Work-Life Balance. Embrace Concurrence.

Balance as a metaphor, when it comes to the integration of work and life, is flawed. Balance suggests an equality, a parity, ideal symmetry. No such conditions exist is the real world of working and living. So I would like to suggest a different metaphor: concurrence.

Consider, for instance, a four-wheel drive vehicle. Traveling on rough roads, a four-wheel drive vehicle operates with concurrence, each wheel moving at the same time but at different rates of speed. This movement being coordinated by a drivetrain that delivers torque from the engine simultaneously, ultimately taking riders to their desired destination, in spite of the dirt and mud on their path.

Or, if you’re not fond of gears and wheels, consider the human body. The circulatory system, the respiratory system, the digestive system, and the musculoskeletal system operate in concurrence. That is, they all work at the same time, doing different things at different rates of speed, controlled by our brain in the service of optimum heath.

Four Life Tasks

The late Alfred Adler spoke of concurrence, although he didn’t use the term, when he proposed that we as human beings are on a quest to complete four life tasks. I’ve adjusted his terms slightly, but these four tasks are:

  1. The SELF Task: Being healthy and strong in physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
  2. The LOVE Task: Having close, intimate relationships. For many, but not all, this involves marriage and family.
  3. The WORK Task: Fully utilizing one’s gifts, talents, and abilities to fulfill one’s potential in the professional arena.
  4. The SERVICE Task: Giving one’s time and effort to a worthy cause, freely and unselfishly.

Dr Adler’s contention is that we are hardwired as adults to complete all of these tasks, not just one or two. When we don’t, we feel less than ourselves, a sense of loss and emptiness seeps into our soul. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is mid-life crisis, where a person painfully recognizes that the work task has dominated his or her existence to the detriment of the other tasks. In short, a lack of concurrence. When we complete all four tasks, we experience life to the full. Life as it was meant to be lived.

What Makes Concurrence Work?

For concurrence to work, however, it takes two things. You must aim and you must adapt. Aiming means having a vision for your four life tasks. Where do you want to go in each of these areas? No one can answer that question for you, but if you don’t answer it for yourself, you’ll drive around in circles. Or, more commonly, be driven by only one or two tasks. Take time this week to write out a simple sentence or two for your self, love, work, and service tasks.

Adapting means, after setting your aim, assessing where you are in relation to it. In other words, you may know where you want to go, but where are you? Honestly answer that question for each life task, and then, based on that assessment, take the actions you need to get on track.

That may mean working more one day and not working another. That may mean exercising one day and skipping exercise and taking a nap another. That may mean taking your family on a road trip one summer and serving in an orphanage in Haiti another. Your quest, again, is not a symmetrical one but a strategic one as you adjust the motion of your current activities to achieve your long-term vision.

The pay-off, though, is this: a life truly lived in all its fullness. Concurrence.