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Justin Trudeau and the myth of work-life balance

The idea of perfectly balancing our careers with the rest of our lives is nice in theory but fails to capture the complexities of modern work

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau are greeted by an honour guard while arriving in Tokyo on May 23, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

In her latest MoneySense column, “A Rich Life,” Caird Urquhart offers advice and analysis on careers, education and our quest for wealth. 

The Prime Minister’s decision to take a day off during a trip to Japan to celebrate his wedding anniversary with his wife Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, generated a lot of media hand-wringing. The CBC headline said Justin Trudeau was “willing to take ‘some punches’ for work-life balance,” while Maclean’s talked to a professor of Asian studies who pointed out that the Japanese would likely frown at the idea of “putting someone’s private life ahead of public duty.”

For many Canadians, I’m sure it elicited little more than a shrug. We are a culture obsessed with work-life balance, constantly fretting over how much of our home and leisure time we feel we have to forfeit in order to earn a decent living. But being a public figure makes Justin Trudeau bait for constant scrutiny.

My thoughts: Trudeau has made a commitment to lead our country until 2019. The idea of achieving balance in a role of this significance is absurd. It’s a 24/7 gig, and I’m sure he knows that. I also believe that by taking a day to honour his values of family and relations he has demonstrated that being true to your self is the foundation of being a good leader.

But here’s what else I believe: There is too much emphasis on the idea of work-life balance. It suggests that every day of our lives should sample everything: career, exercise, family, friends, fun, time alone, sex and whatever else you might consider important. Trying to achieve this idealistic marker on a regular basis adds unnecessary pressure and stress to our lives, which of course moves us farther away from the aforementioned goal. So how to have that “rich life?” Change the goal. I suggest that people worry less about work-life balance and more about work-life rhythm.

What do I mean by rhythm? Every day, week, month and year, each of us has a natural rhythm that wants to be followed. Some people are night owls and do their best thinking and work in the evening, others are up at the crack of dawn. The top of the week may be your sweet spot for getting things done or maybe you like to stay late on a Friday to end your week on a productive note. Many people go into the doldrums and don’t accomplish much during November when the daylight hours are short but come to life in May. Or perhaps you’re the kind of person who digs in more and gets twice as much done when it’s cold and dark. The more we recognize our natural rhythms the more productive we become and the more “balanced” we feel. The end result is a happier and potentially wealthier existence.

The Prime Minister’s decision to take a day off to be with his wife on their anniversary isn’t about work-life balance. It’s about honouring his values and understanding the rhythm of his life. Justin Trudeau is in “full on” PM mode now and at some point, like Stephen Harper, the rhythm of his life will change and he’ll have more time for other things. For the next few years, however, he is a one-note guy. A day off here and there won’t create balance but it may keep his family intact while he dedicates his time to the job we have elected him to do.

What are your natural rhythms? How are you taking advantage of them?

Caird Urquhart is a personal and business coach and founder of New Road Coaching.


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