A Work-Life Balance Lesson from Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt on work-life balanceWell, the olympics are over. As inspiring as it always is for me to see elite athletes finally get the chance to show why they’ve trained and sacrificed so much, I’m still hooked on something I heard from Usain Bolt a couple week ago.  

In case you’ve been under a rock for the past 8 years, Usain Bolt has become easily one of the best athletes of all time and without question in his sport – track. While performing at the top of his field in every sense of the word, he is also known for his showmanship. Before, after and even during each race, he genuinely looks like he’s having fun. He’s not stressed out before the starting gun and I was even able to find a great pic of him smiling while looking at his competitors during the race (but, royalties, so I can’t share it here).

After Usain Bolt won the 100 meter dash for the third olympics in a row this year, he made the interview circuit. One of the interviewers asked him how he balances his playful attitude and showmanship with the seriousness of what he was trying to achieve – to be the first athlete ever to win the gold three olympics in a row in the 100 meter dash. His answer: To me, they go hand in hand, one and the same.

This is the approach we should all be taking with work-life balance and why I’m done with the phrase. It’s never really made sense to me and I think Bolt hit the nail on the head why – how do you balance work and life? They go together. What is work without life or life without work? Balance is about opposing activities finding some sort of equilibrium. But if work is an integral part of life, how would that even work?

One of the fallacies of our modern society and why so many people are unhappy with their work is that we make such a clear distinction between work and the rest of life. With that attitude, it leaves people blaming work for activities they are missing out on or for time not spent with family. It makes work something to get through each day instead of just another part of our lives.

My solution? Follow Bolt’s lead and make them one and the same. Instead of approaching work with one attitude and “life” with another, fold them in together. When you think of the kind of life you want to live, consider how productive activity that helps others fits in (aka, work). It’s tempting to dream of a life of leisure – lazy mornings, long walks on the beach and relaxing evenings – but as humans, we all need some sort of productive activity to stay engaged and interested in life and to give our life focus. That’s really all work is.

As someone who has always approached work as “work” and the rest of life as “the good stuff,” this has been a challenge for me. But I can tell you that figuring this out – shifting your mindset to allow for work and life to exist in the same space – has been one of the key factors for me to be happier with life. Even before I ran my own business (which, admittedly makes this approach much easier), it was a constant practice for me to remember that they are not separate, and on the days that I “got” it, life felt a little easier.

I got some great advice once from a boss as a young lawyer about balancing my priorities.  Everyday you have things you need to get done. Sometimes they are all related to your profession. Sometimes they are all related to the rest of your life. Most days, it’s a mix. But it doesn’t matter whether you’re focusing on “life” priorities or “work” priorities because, as Bolt put it, they go hand in hand, one and the same – they all have to get done.

So – work and life – one and the same. It’s not about getting work done so you can live. It’s about finding work that integrates well with the life you want to live. It takes intention, clear goals and a strategy to achieve it, but with a little up front effort, know that you too can be smiling as you breeze past your competitors to achieve your goals. 

1 Comment

  1. Kassidy Benson

    Love this blog Leila!


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