Jeff Bezos on Work-Life Balance

When the richest person in history (with a net worth of over $100 billion… that’s “billion” with a “B”) has something to say about what it takes to be successful, our ears will naturally perk up. After all, he’s clearly doing something right to accrue that kind of fortune and he seems to be pretty happy about the whole thing too.

And understandably so, I suppose.

Common Sense Is Mediocre

What you’ll find with so many of these success stories is that these individuals have a habit of turning conventional wisdom on its head. Take Tim Ferriss as a prime example. Conventional wisdom will tell you that if you want to be successful at what you do, then you need to work hard and you need to put in long hours. The guy who is first to arrive at the office and the last one to leave at night, he’s the one that’s going places, right?

Ferriss, counter intuitively, champions the notion of the four-hour workweek. He strives to work less so he can achieve more.

Another popular tidbit of “common sense” is that if you want to be successful, you should go to college or university and get a degree or three. I’m certainly not downplaying the value of higher education — I have one of those degrees myself and I certainly don’t think it was a waste of time and money — but then you see that some of the world’s most successful people dropped out of college.

Mark Zuckerberg is a good example, but you have to remember that he was going to Harvard. Just getting into that school makes you pretty remarkable, so he’s already on another tier than most people.

A Strict Trade-Off?

Which brings us back to the Amazon CEO. At an awards event, Jeff Bezos commented on how he views work-life balance, since he gets asked about it all the time. He said work-life balance is “a debilitating phrase because it implies there’s a strict trade-off.”

And that’s how most people think about it. If you work more, it means you have less time, energy and resources for your personal life. If you focus more on your personal life, then it’s harder to get ahead in your work. Bezos disagrees.

“It’s not a balance,” he said. “It actually is a circle.”

Put another way, he says these two components shouldn’t be separate and compartmentalized. Rather, the relationship between the two is reciprocal. “If I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy. And if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy.” One supports the other.

An Easy Decision

Years ago, I wrote that you don’t necessarily have to choose between your career and your personal life. Instead of seeking balance, we should seek work-life integration, because work and play can be the same thing. Something that has come up in this blog before is that for John, blogging and Internet marketing are fun. The huge income is just a happy byproduct and he’d still do it even if it made no money.

Money can be motivating, to be sure, but it shouldn’t be your only motivation. It’s much more about the kind of lifestyle you can achieve when you shed any notion of work-life balance. Work, life, it’s all the same if both sides energize you rather than drain you. It’s just living when you don’t feel like you’re working.

Maybe work-life balance just is not quite my tempo. It doesn’t appear to be the goal for Jeff Bezos and his personal life — with lots of sleep, scouring the oceasns for NASA rockets, and taking his four adopted kids on submarine rides — looks pretty rad next to his $100+ billion fortune.

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