I have a simple classification mechanism for things I do: passion, interest or job. Passions are things that consume me, for which I can sustain long periods of directed thought. Interests are things that hold my attention for short or medium periods of time (e.g. hobbies). And jobs are the things that are necessary to my life, but for which I neither have passion or interest. Some examples of this classification applied to my life: my personal blog is an interest; my family and building software products are passions; going to the grocery store is a job.
There is of course fluidity between my categories. For example, when I was in 6th grade I discovered an interest in computers. This interest eventually developed into a passion, as my parents would periodically find me in the morning at my computer having worked through the night. Going to the gym in the morning is a job I do today with about the same enthusiasm as going to the Massachusetts RMV. But several years back, fitness had been an interest that drove me to the gym each morning with great enthusiasm.
At different periods of my life, I have also found different balance between my passions, interests and jobs. Sometimes I could control this balance, but other times life has asserted itself and forced me to make difficult tradeoffs. When I was in college, I had many interests, very few passions, and a few jobs. After college I maintained my professional passion for building software products, but found myself with fewer interests and more jobs. Upon becoming a first time father, I found a sudden drop off of all interests for the first year, as I consolidated my hobbies to just one: sleep.
Underneath my classification system lies a truth which I believe to be fundamental: almost all great accomplishments come from passions. Whether it is the painting of the Sistine Chapel, the discovery of penicillin, the creation of the first computer, or the writing of Ulysses, substantive human achievements have almost always come from great efforts driven by passions. Even in the tech industry, great companies, products, features come from individuals and teams who brought passion to what they do. Do you think the original Macintosh team considered what they did just a job? Was search just a passing interest for Larry and Sergey? Did Bill Gates drop out of Harvard to pursue a job?
Somewhere in the last few years it has become politically incorrect to admit to the hard work and sacrifices required to pursue your passions. Somewhere along the way, “work life balance” became an expectation (a.k.a. "WLB"), and the phrase “sustainable pace” became commonplace. But I have found over time that I work best with people who come to work to apply their passion. As a result, when I hear someone talk about their need for “work life balance”, I assume I am taking to a person who goes to work each day to pursue a job or interest - but certainly not a passion. Don’t get me wrong: I am not an entrepreneur who misses his kids' sporting events or who forgets to celebrate his wedding anniversary. With my family's help, I have arranged my life to pursue my passions without making unacceptable tradeoffs.
So when you see me look at you with a raised eyebrow when you mention WLB, forgive me: I don’t come to work to apply my interests or to work a job. I also like to believe that Michelangelo did not limit the time he invested in his art to 40 hours per week; or that Linus Torvalds did not write the original Linux kernel at a “sustainable pace”; or the original iPhone was not created by a team committed to “work life balance”. Sometimes it takes great effort to achieve your goals. And when your work is also your passion, sometimes it doesn't feel like work after all.