The work life balance myth

By Howard Feldman

I have bad news. Really bad. You know that work-life balance thing that they keep telling you about? Well, it’s as rare as the unicorn that every fund is looking for. It’s a myth created by those who want you to feel guilty. Or by your partner who thinks that you work too hard.

Or by your parents who you don’t speak to enough.

I feel awful being the one to break the news to you, but the only hope that one has of achieving any semblance of “balance” is on a bosu ball at the gym. The work-life thing? That’s not real.

Here is why;

  • Most people who are in the process of building a business have no idea what balance is. They are fuelled by what they are doing, they are driven to succeed, and they think of their project whenever they have a free moment.
  • New businesses take an immense of commitment. New businesses also often don’t have the team required to get everything done. That means that the founder is required to connect the wifi router, order stationary and pick up milk on the way to the office. All this whilst worrying about strategy, marketing, finance and if there are enough coffee beans to last a week.
  • Entrepreneurs love what they do. And this means that any time away from the project is time sacrificed.
  • Think of founders as moms. They worry about their baby all the time. Even when they pretend not to. And when they forget about them for a minute, they feel guilty and neglectful and downright horrible. The only way to avoid this is to make sure their “Baby” is front of mind at all given moments.


The good news is that this period should be a relatively short one. Once systems are put in place, once the right staff have been hired and engaged then it becomes vital for the entrepreneur to spend time away from the company. It is not only they who need it but also the company itself who has to function without being micro managed.

Even more so, time away allows the entrepreneur critical perspective that distance provides. It ensures longevity for both the person as well as the organisation.

In my mid-40s, following two armed robberies, I chose to change the course of my career and life. The incidents had sharply brought into focus that which I had neglected and I didn’t have the reserves and resilience required to withstand the traumas. It was a dramatic and unsettling period, not only for me but also for my family. I believe that had I given myself the permission to “live” outside of the company for the time preceding these events, that I could have handled these events with greater ease.

A message that I like to give business people I coach, or consult is that it is vital to establish an outlet. Sport, reading, music, dance or art are a few. Mine would ultimately become writing – which is my to channel creativity in a chaotic and stressful business world.

The Work-Life balance aspiration is a myth. It is a construct that is impossible to define and a waste of time to even try and do so. My advice is to find an activity that allows you to channel the real you. Even if it’s for a short while. Enjoy these activities without guilt, knowing that you are doing so not just for yourself but for those around you and for the company you are working to build.

ABOUT Howard Feldman

Howard Feldman is a businessman, philanthropist and social commentator. He is a commodity trader with a secret passion for writing and literature – something he tells no one about. He holds the position as Chairman of the Board of the SAJR, the only weekly Jewish focused newspaper in South Africa.

He is unashamedly Jewish, unashamedly South African, and unashamedly supportive of Israel. He is married to Heidi and has 5 children who he loves all the time but likes most of the time. He even has a daughter in law.

Aside from being an eternal businessman, he also enjoy being a weekly guest columnist on News24 and I host the daily afternoon Drive show on Chai FM, a local radio station. He has also been the non-Executive Chairman of the South African Jewish Report for the past 4 years and have seen the financial turnaround of the paper into a viable publication.

His real passion is people,  making connections and growing businesses into sustainable, healthy and exciting families.