Dear Design Martyrs: There’s No Such Thing As ‘Work-Life Balance’ If Your Career Is Your Calling

Posted inDesign Inspiration

“Dear Design Martyrs” is PRINTmag’s latest advice column from Debbie Millman. Debbie will respond to your most burning questions about design, branding, work-life balance, and so much more.

Dear Design Martyrs,

I’ve been working as an art director in an advertising agency for three years. Each year I seem to work harder and harder, and I feel like I have no life. Is it wrong to talk to my boss about my life-work balance?


Longing on Long Island

Dear Longing,

To become the best at something, you have to work really, really hard at becoming the best. 

You don’t start out being the best. You must work harder than everyone else. That makes it more difficult to have what some people refer to as “work-life balance.” Work-life balance, of course, is having a life that has a balance between work and non-work activities.

I probably should tell you right off the bat that I do not believe in work-life balance. I believe that if you view your work as a calling, it is a labor of love rather than something laborious. If you see your work as a calling, you are not approaching the number of hours you are working with a sense of dread or counting the minutes until the weekend. Your calling can become a life-affirming engagement that can provide its own balance and spiritual nourishment. Ironically, it takes hard work to achieve this as well.

When you are in your 20s and 30s and want to have a remarkable, fulfilling career, you must work hard. If you don’t work harder than everyone else, you will not get ahead. Further, if you are looking for a work-life balance in your 20s or 30s, you are likely in the wrong career. If you are doing something you love, you don’t want life-work balance. If you aren’t getting the promotion or financial raise that you want at work, consider asking yourself the following:

What benefit are you providing? Are you making a difference with the work you are doing? 

If you aren’t able to tangibly answer those questions, then you aren’t working hard enough.

You will work as hard at something you hate as you do at something you love, so even if you aren’t working at your dream job and have to slog through a 40-hour workweek on the clock, you are certainly not going to have much fun living while you seek to balance the bridge between work and life.

Need some design advice? Got a question for Debbie Millman? Send your questions here!