The Trophy-Process Balance

So we can forget about work-life balance now.

Posted Dec 17, 2018

Talk of work-life balance is rarely great self-help advice. Do you work to live or live to work? Not a very helpful question: there are very few people who would say that they live to work. Some might, in fact, do, but they would never confess to it. It's also not something that most of us can do a whole lot about, short of quitting our job. I want to set work-life balance aside to make way for something much more important: the trophy-process balance. 

Some activities only make sense if they reach an endpoint or a goal. They are done in order to achieve something. They should be completed. You can’t do them just a little bit. Like running the marathon in under four hours.

With activities of this kind, there are two options. You either achieve the goal or you don’t. If you don't, then your frustrated desires lead to even stronger desires that are also likely to be frustrated. And, according to recent studies, this also leads to liking the activity less. And if you do achieve the goal, well, then four hours is for losers and 3.45 is the new goal. Then 3.30. And so on. There is always a higher mountain to climb.

Luckily, not all activities are like this. Some other activities you can do just a little bit. They make sense even if you don’t complete them. They are not done to achieve a goal. Like running for the sake of running.

Some things you do for the trophy; some things for the process itself. We need both. Very few people have jobs where we can just enjoy the process of whatever we are doing without any pressure to achieve anything. There are always goals, deadlines, promotion criteria.

And even in our free time, much of what we do is geared towards some very specific goal. We cook a meal with the ultimate purpose to then serve it to our friends, not just cook aimlessly. So we can’t avoid activities we do for the achievement. But we need a healthy balance between activities we do for achievements and activities we do for the process itself.

So forget about work-life balance. What really matters is the trophy-process balance. Most of the things you do at work will be activities for achievements, for trophies. But if then you spend the rest of your life also chasing trophies, then this really messes with your trophy-process balance. Regardless of whether you succeed or not in hitting your targets.

A healthy work-life balance is no good if, on the life side, we only have trophy activities. You will still find yourself chasing after pointless achievements from dawn to dusk. In our fast-paced lives, we need activities that we can do just a little bit. That make sense even if you don’t complete them. We need a healthy trophy-process balance.