Why Grok Didn’t Have Work-Life Balance and Neither Will You

Work Life Balance Final 2.0Research published last year revealed that one-quarter of American workers feel it’s increasingly harder to maintain a work-life balance. Among global respondents, that number rose to one-third. According to the survey, parents are among those who struggle the most. “Finding time for me,” “getting enough sleep,” and “managing personal and professional life” were the most commonly mentioned challenges. Even those who manage to leave on time from work may then face an increasing overlap between work and home life, with another survey finding that 20% of participants worked more than 20 hours from home in addition to regular office hours. For all our social and technological advancements, it seems we’re increasingly stuck in an unfortunate cul-de-sac of our own making. Shouldn’t we be beyond this by now? How is it that we can’t seem to innovate, design, reason or hack our way into a better collective work-life balance?

There are, of course, legitimate and wise ways to combine tasks and increase productivity—issues I’ve written about before. Biking to work to make your commute time work for you (and free up time after work for family) or working from home to wholly eliminate a commute most days can be a smart option for some people, but not all of us have that choice immediately available to us. Staggering schedules with a partner to cover childcare or working flex hours to optimize efficiency can be helpful at times, but they’re not a panacea and can impose their own stresses. Making matters even more complicated, both time and energy figure into this picture and each impose their own inevitable limitations. We might cram our work into shorter days but then find we’re exhausted when we get home to enjoy our extra time.

Truth be told, there’s only so much that reorganizing hours while maintaining the same expectations for output. At some point, it’s just a shell game that lets us feel like we’re taking action but results in little benefit. Likewise, we eventually hit diminishing returns in doubling up activities. Walking at a treadmill desk in the office or reading a great novel on the train, fitting in a workout and a quick lunch during the noon hour are all smart choices. But beyond these, the options can start to wade into the less advantageous swamps of multitasking pretty quickly, at which point we’re missing the key point anyway.

What we want from life balance can in most cases be boiled down to ease and fulfillment. I say ease in the sense that we’re not frantically rushing from task to task, juggling goals and projects, making the whole endeavor a miserable slog of checklists rather than a chance for enjoyment. Ease is slow, experimental, meandering, organic. Fulfillment isn’t a quantifiable or predictable recipe, but a varying, personal experience rooted in too many factors to name.

We want life balance in the sense that we want a chance to naturally, unhurriedly experience all the good of life: family connection, socialization, exercise, hobbies, leisure, creativity, rest, self-care and career. Is it really such a tall order? Well, yes and no.

Just where did the myth come from—this belief that we can have it all at the same time? You know, the idea that we should be able to simultaneously balance all the minutiae of our daily lives, our ongoing dreams, and some healthy self-development goals against the immaculate backdrop of a perfect home, great career and impressive social life.

Compared to the days of manual agrarian labor and the early industrial revolution, we have more time on our hands, right? Why shouldn’t we be able to make it all work and live the utopian dream already?

These are the times when a Primal lens can offer needed perspective. Wasn’t Grok, after all, the initial example of natural work-life balance? Can’t he be our emblem for seeking the perfect symmetry of effort and leisure? I’m sorry to burst the bubble, but most definitely, no.

Let’s look at the reality. The average workday for hunter-gatherers was by most estimates in the 3-5 hour range, and this included food acquisition. Unless they experienced food scarcity or moved camps for seasonal migrations, the rest of the time was leisure. In contrast to most assumption, it was a lifestyle not all were interested in giving up for the toils and hours of agrarian life when given a choice.

The universal and timeless fact is, there’s an opportunity cost when we choose to focus on one facet of life in comparison (or exclusion) of another. We can enjoy more leisure as Grok did (with all the opportunity for rest, socialization and self-development that could go with it), but we can’t pretend to have his life and still maintain all the professional ambitions and material affluence of our own. Hunter-gatherers understood the price and the benefits of their choice, and we need to appreciate the same about ours.

You could say that in some ways our capacity to envision and desire so many interests in life is both a blessing and a curse. We have the ability to simultaneously pursue many priorities but not in equal measure or with equal results. And in the midst of that frustration and disappointment, there’s the entry point.

We all grow up with grand visions of infinite achievements. Yet we also all hit a point when we realize we indeed won’t learn 7 languages, make a billion dollars, have the perfect marriage and 3.5 wonderful children, become leader of the free world, pitch for a professional baseball team, enjoy peace by a quiet lake every night and still have time to run that specialty bookstore and tackles shop on the side. We grow up, absorb the mathematical possibilities of a general life expectancy, and learn the unappealing lessons of compromise. Eventually, we come to some degree of peace around this. And, what then, is so different about fully acknowledging the constraints of a 24-hour day?

Even as we trim back our lofty ambitions, we do well to continue the exercise with more editing zeal. What is it that we really want from life? How do we want to allocate that proverbial pie chart of time for optimum and genuine life satisfaction? And what are we willing to forgo or limit to get it? Do we have the guts to throw out the notion that we have to be (and are even capable of being) stellar at work, family life, social life, health and self-enrichment concurrently?

Where one true commitment advances, one or more lesser interest retreats, and it’s fine—if we accept it as such. Doing so not only will help us move into a life that is more fulfilling by our personal definition, but it also lets us finally drop the fraught, exhausting balancing act of maintaining more than we can reasonably handle, let alone find joy in.

If you’re honest with yourself, could you be happy with a minimalist material lifestyle in order to devote more time and energy to family or creative pursuits? On the other hand, maybe you’ve never really envisioned having a family and don’t desire a large social circle, but you feel deeply called to fulfill a professional mission that holds great personal meaning for you. Or maybe you’ve just always prioritized career and financial success. There’s no judgment in the question, but there is necessity to it. If we accept that the picture can’t be balanced, what do we as individuals want the picture to look like?

And I think it’s important to mention also (and this is something easier to see the longer one’s been around) that there are natural seasons to life when certain lessons, realizations or priorities tend to rise to the surface. At times we go through “chop wood, carry water” stages that are short on adventure and long on labor. Grok knew this, too.

What we feel mired in one decade becomes less of a focus the next. Our circumstances change, and so do we. It’s not necessarily something we can predict, but we can bring awareness and thought to the process. Time and perspective for reflecting on our lives obviously plays a role, too. It’s in these transitions from phase to phase that windows of opportunity can open if we’re committed to making it so. I’ve known people who have gone on to entirely transform their lives in later decades, beginning amazing second acts that no one saw coming. Having the health and vitality from Primal living most certainly helps open up possibilities.

So, what if you feel like you’re in the thick of life and unable to make any dramatic changes, or you’re unsure how you’d reallocate your life given the choice? Understand that there are no absolutes. Get curious about what you want. Be experimental. What feeds you? What do you want to make sure you do every day? Maybe you juggle parenthood and a full-time job along with various and sundry other household and life duties but still manage to spend 20 minutes in your workshop doing whatever creative hobby matters to you. Or maybe it’s that you make sure you get an hour in the woods each day. Or something else.

Surrender the assumption of balance as equality, the sides of a scale always matching up. Let it be more about how you feel at the end of the day. If you can make a commitment to offering yourself quality time—for you—and truly devote it to something every day (or nearly so) that fulfills you well beyond all the passive entertainments, technological compulsion and multitasking (madness) we get caught up in, there’s your opportunity. In fact, apply the Grok model of simplicity, single-mindedness, and flow to that one thing you do for yourself. See what happens over time.

Alternatively, venture to ask the bigger, bolder question of how you want to show up as a parent/partner/artisan/hobbyist/activist/friend/humanist/etc. today. We can ask the bigger question of how we want to show up as “X” each day. This question moves the focus from accomplishment to presence. We don’t necessarily need to “do” anything big or special in any of those roles, but we might bring a deeper mindfulness to them and experience ourselves as more fulfilled as a result.

Because ultimately, a satisfying balance won’t come with parsing out hours and minutes. It comes from staying in touch with what you consider the most essential parts of yourself—who you love, what fascinates you, how you want to contribute to the world, what you want to experience most in this life. Add these to the most fundamental, Primal of questions.

Thanks for reading, everyone. I’d love to read your take on creating a Primally balanced life as you see it. Share your thoughts, and have a great wrap-up to the week.

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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36 thoughts on “Why Grok Didn’t Have Work-Life Balance and Neither Will You”

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  1. Thought provoking as always! No we really can’t have it all…at least not all at one time. I’ve been working over the past few years to figure out what my ideal life really looks and feels like…how do I want to spend my time, what type of work is meaningful to me, what material things are important to me? (For example, I love driving a nice car but don’t care where my clothes come from.). What do I want to be learning?And most importantly, how does this ideal
    life feel? This post is excellent and gave me even more to think about. Thank you Mark!

  2. Yes, Elizabeth, I can relate. (I don’t care about a nice car OR where my clothes come from) but my free time is and always has been paramount. I think this is the journeys conclusion that we all come to sooner or later. Thanks to Mark for another great and encouraging post.

  3. Wonderful and inspiring thoughts, Mark, thanks!

    I feel the most important thing really is to know what is important to you. As soon as you know that, it’s not only easier to let go of certain other things/ambitions/duties/plans — it also turns out that some part of this “most important” thing can be found in a lot of other activities in our life.

    E.g. if you realize that your family and in particular your kids are the most important thing for you right now, and that you want to focus on raising them well, teaching them values, and helping them turn into wonderful human beings, then suddenly there are a lot of opportunities in “other” tasks or activities which you can connect to that main goal:

    Doing housework or garden work can be a great chance to connect and to teach your kids important things. Preparing meals together or moving outside or doing your fitness routine, too. (and the same holds for a lot of other things)

    So suddenly, tasks that have just been “duties” can to some extent have a purpose for you.

    I’ve found that this shift in viewpoint can make a huge difference in how fulfilling my day is. But as you said, all that is based on knowing what the most important thing is for us.

  4. Great article, Mark! The idea of jamming perfection into every category of life just isn’t feasible. And it shouldn’t be something we have to strive for. After all, there’s usually only a limited number of things we truly care about hitting out of the park. Pick those things are go for it. The rest can still get done, but you don’t have to be a master of all things all the time.

  5. I like the idea of seasons. For one time of life, you may devote yourself to career. At another, to family. At another, to a personal hobby or passion project. That gives you the opportunity to be “great at it all,” just not all at once.

  6. Nice way of thinking about it. Certainly takes some of the pressure/self-judgment out of the equation.

  7. Good summary about balance and compromise. We often get so wound up in wanting everything that the idea that we have trade offs leaves us unsatisfied. But as you pointed out, that’s silly. We all need to get a little more zen about our pursuits and stop wanting everything at once (many things we many not truly want realistically all at the same time).

  8. Thank goodness I figured most of this stuff out in 1976. I looked around and thought “this world is insane and I won’t try to keep up with the Jones'” Of course that came with some grief from the outside world and some family members. But it worked out in the end, somehow.

  9. In Grok’s world, his life WAS his work, and his work was his life. Rather than have separate entities, he merged the two together–simplified. This is what happens when you do what you love, and love what you do.

  10. I really appreciate your writing, and have implemented much of your advice and information into my lifestyle. I have read all of your books and Mark’s Daily Apple is a regular morning read for me, but today’s blog post stands out as some of your absolute best writing. The points you touch on have become increasingly important and meaningful in my life over the past few years, and I really think you are revealing one of the best paths to happiness and fulfillment available to us in our “modern” society. I am reminded of this quote from Freya Stark, “There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do”.

  11. Currently in my life, I’ve been running around like a nut trying to keep 7 or 8 plates spinning at once. To say it can be hectic at times is an understatement. But this article definitely gave me peace of mind. I know I can’t keep this up forever, let alone the next 6 months. But I’m working toward a crystal-clear vision of what I want my life to be. And I understand that chaos may be part of that ride. Thanks for the article.

  12. So great Mark! Very timely, as we are working to scale back our “work” (9-5) in order to have more time to “work” (garden, hobby farm, take care of the kids, home-school, etc.) Perfect affirmation for what we are working towards!

  13. Spot on. If you really step back and observe our society and all the “stuff” we make, buy, and sell, it is no mystery why we don’t have time for anything else. As the years go by, the number of cars, computers, cell phones and square footage per capita continues to grow….when will we realize that our consumerist, materialistic lifestyles are not only decimating the environment but also the precious and fleeting time each of us has to spend on this Earth?

    I can personally attest to the peace of mind that is gained by being more deliberate about the things I buy and not letting my life get re-cluttered with “stuff”.

  14. I think the biggest difference is that back in the cave, your coworkers were your family. You spent your days with your siblings, your aunts & uncles, your cousins. You didn’t leave your loved ones each day, ditching the kids with strangers, to sit in a room for 8-12 hours with a bunch of people you have nothing in common with.

    Look at what we do for recreation. We hunt, we fish, we chop wood, we go camping. This is work, or used to be, but it doesn’t seem like work when we do it with our loved ones.

  15. Great post Mark, thank you.
    From time to time, I struggle with my decision to be an artist. I have a part-time office job to pay for rent and other essentials, and apart from that every little scrap of time and money I have goes to my studio rent, materials, and works of art nobody may ever see. Work-life balance is a moot point for me, because my work is my life. I live in a tiny apartment and don’t have a car, fancy clothes, and don’t go on expensive holidays, but it’s all worth it to me because I am living my passion, and that is more valuable than any amount of monetary wealth could ever be.
    It can be hard sometimes when I see other people spending money like it’s nothing, when I have to think twice about every single item I want to buy. But then I remember they are all stressed and unhappy in their jobs, and I feel like I am on the right path again 🙂

    1. Good for you! I sometimes feel envious seeing people eat “whatever they want.”

      But then I remind myself that by eating in a way that helps me feel and be healthy, I am adding to my quality of life. It is a choice I get to make, not something I have to do.

  16. I read the first half of this post standing on my left leg. The second half, standing on my right leg. I learned this from someone who commented here. So even my down time reading, becomes a lesson in balance. Lol.

  17. This was a beautiful, eloquent message that I needed to hear. It says I can’t have it all, but I can focus on what matters to me. Thanks, Mark.

  18. This article definitely presents a good opportunity to reflect on personal and professional objectives. I try to work towards attainable goals, and build on them as I progress. Another way I stay motivated, is to incorporate activities in my routine that allow for my musical and artistic attributes to develop. Having a profession in which one has an interest makes a difference.

  19. There is so much great wisdom in your post today. I am a therapist and often help people with this/these issues. I find it’s often about setting boundaries and not letting guilt, shame, or some negative message get in the way of what’s important to you. And as you said so well, we cannot have it all. The “seasons of life” is a phrase I will borrow. That was of thinking about it resonates so much for me.

  20. Great article post indeed.

    Everyone’s life is full of struggle. Family background doesn’t matter. Because some times rich parents want that their child should be a Doctor or Engineer. But no one ask to the child what is his/her wish. So at that time he/she choose their own interest as a profession. For example; photography, singing, musician etc.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  21. I had a corporate job. But I knew I wanted to be out of there before 50. My friends bought big fancy cars and homes and holidays and simply wasted a lot of money on stuff whilst also not managing their money (did not track performance of investments etc) Whilst hardly living a minimalist life I saved and invested and did not buy into the “brand” BS. I did not care what brand my sunglasses or my handbag was. I also consciously decided children were not for me. And so at 50 I was out with plenty of money to live off for rest of my life. My friends cant understand how I did it. But they simply made different choices. There is a blog called Mr Money Mustache. Brilliant about this sort of issue.

  22. It does become very easy to get swept up in doing the “right” things, instead of prioritizing the things that make one happy. After years of burning myself out with work, grad school, a business, starting a non-profit, and being the “perfect” friend/family member at the detriment of my physical and mental health, a traumatic event helped me reevaluate my life. For me, the new key to “success” is learning to say no thank you, even occasionally at work to trips and extra projects. I’ve also adjusted my definition of success, which was never material and more about maximum achievement. But now I’m okay with being a good performer at work instead of the top performer, a good friend to a few people rather than many. Giving oneself permission to have an off day, phone it on sometimes, decline hosting the family holiday, are essential to achieving that balance and making time (and energy) to pursue passions. Great post. Thanks for helping me reflect on this important topic.

  23. I’ve been reading this blog for years and this is one of my all-time favorite posts. Thank you!

  24. I especially love your words around the “natural seasons of life,” Mark.

    For me, there have been certain seasons devoted to full-on, super-intense study and learning. Getting my Master’s, for instance, and doing an intensive year-long language fellowship in Egypt thereafter. Then – after some years off and time working – returning to school for a 5-year Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine program.

    Now, some years after that – and just as I was feeling a bit too relaxed around studies – I’m launching into full-on, intensive teaching of Chinese Medicine… and another intensive, fully immersed phase.

    Because of the “time off” beforehand and since I don’t see this new phase as indefinite, I can totally enjoy the intensity of it, even though I’ll need to ease off some other areas of my life in the meanwhile.

  25. This is a great article. I heard a bit about this concept from the Adrenal Reset Diet, which likens your body to a 4 burner stove, and you cannot have more than 2 burners going full bore at the same time. The burners represent family, career, health, and friends. Decide which 2 are most important and focus on those. Then they can be changed as your seasons of life shift, as Mark states.

    I think I finally get it. Doing most things OK instead of excelling at the 1-2 things that are important to you shortchange yourself and those around you.

  26. Thank you. Lots of great links to follow up on. I couldn’t agree more with many of the comments regarding the vital importance of knowing what you want. It’s interesting how ingrained other people’s views can confuse our own desires. For example, recently I took to hanging laundry outside to dry. This was due to a job loss a few months ago. My mother asked if my drier was broken and in the past I thought mostly folks with no option hung out laundry. Not true! I’ve discovered a great love of the simplicity and time outside. Just this morning I stood under the trees spreading wet towels and shirts along the line. The sun was just beginning to break up the morning dew. The dapples shade cast peaceful patterns across the lawn. The birds chattered wildly. Wow! What a great way to start the day!

  27. Just listened to a talk by Ade McCormack. One of the points he made (I think he did anyway — he has a bigger brain than mine) was that work-life balance was standard for hunter-gatherers. It wasn’t a goal for the h-g but really just a matter of reality and survival. But as the Industrial Revolution came into being, expectations changed dramatically. And the barriers between Work and Life became more stringent. You work 8 to 5 and then you stop working.

    With the addition of technology that broke down barriers between work and life, the possibility of a work-life balance of the hunter-gatherers has actually returned. Now you potentially work a less stringent schedule and for some who are fortunate, a “flex” schedule. And in all probability work doesn’t stop at 5 and life doesn’t stop at 8.

    Corporations are still adapting to this reality being holdovers from the Industrial Revolution (and possibly chain gangs, not that I’m bitter or anything). Once the businesses realize that it is more natural for humans to make their living while living, the barriers will be completely restored to norma..

  28. My own up bringing was not good. As a young adult I promised I would raise my children in the way I felt was best for them to be healthy (mentally & physically) & productive members of society. My children are 25, 17, 12 &12. I returned to work last Oct. OMG, not worth it. I was asked to return after summer break and I decided that my 12 yr old twins still need me as does my husband.The demands of my family outside the home is great. The little money I’d bring in isn’t worth the stress. Mentally not available, eating unhealthy, always tired. I’m grateful that I’m may to stay home. But I also limit material “wants”. Hair,nails, clothes, vacations, fancy, updated house.

  29. I think one thing people forget is that their lives as they currently are already is their best effort at having the ideal life, based in a multitude of factors. It’s only when you realise you already are the agent behind it all that you are able to influence it at all, otherwise it’s just a continuous Groundhog Day. So the first thing is to understand your actual agency in every part of your life, and stop blaming anything on external forces.

    The second part – if you want anything to change that is – is to start making new decisions and forming new priorities based in different criteria than before. (If you use the same criteria, nothing will change). For me personally the biggest lesson is trying to listen to what the heart says and follow the heart with courage, it’s not easy to do when the mind bombards you with hundreds of thoughts and reasons for doing a gazillion other things.

    The reason our minds do this is because there are a gazillion different role models or ways of living observable to us – billionaires, yogis, happy middle class mums, venture capitalists, inventors, life saving doctors etc. In groks day there were no competing role models, just the tribal way of life, so there were few or none of the crazy competing thoughts of what Grok should ‘be’ (ie what priorities he should have) that harangue us daily. Arguably his heart and mind were more or less in harmony, and so the things he thought of doing were also the things that felt right. Cognitive behavioural therapy’s (CBT) central tenet is at feelings are triggered by thoughts. The complex modern world messes a lot with our thoughts, which in turn messes with our emotions. By learning to dial down the chaotic thought processes and focus on what one’s heart is telling us, I think that we can discover our internal compass to navigate these tempestuous seas.

  30. Mark an effective and mindful essay on acknowledging sometimes we can’t just have it all..

  31. Great points – and many. In our experience, dealing with “all of it” is better done through integrating practices than trying to add or make clear boundaries.
    HBR has some recent work on the value of blurred over clear lines. https://hbr.org/2016/08/research-keeping-work-and-life-separate-is-more-trouble-than-its-worth

    For us, it’s about the mindful decisions of 1. what we can and will do and 2. what we choose not to do – even if just for now. https://leadership.altizerperformancepartners.com/blog/performance-and-wellness-how-integrated-are-you