Don't let your life outside of work take a backseat to the daily grind.
by Praveen Tipirneni
Ascent/PKS Media Inc./Getty Images
People feel a constant pressure to do more, work harder, and spend longer hours at their job.
Whether it’s a demanding boss or a drive to succeed, life outside of work often takes a backseat to the daily grind.
But it’s important to realize that our life outside of work is often just as important to our success as the time we spend in the office or lab.
Take Kary Mullis for example.
Mullis is the inventor of the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) — one of the most significant 20th century discoveries in molecular biology. It won him the Nobel Prize in 1993.
Mullis didn’t come up with this idea while he was hard at work in a lab.
In fact, his inspiration came while he was driving through the mountains toward his cabin in Mendocino County.
His story, and others like it, show that your life outside of work can truly impact your performance.
Many fortunate discoveries and creative moments happen by chance.
But chance isn’t completely random.
It is often facilitated by actions we take on our own.
In his book Chase, Chance, and Creativity: The Lucky Art of Novelty, biomedical researcher James Austin describes the role of chance in creativity.
He classifies “chance” into four different categories.
Chance I: “The good luck that occurs is completely accidental. It is pure blind luck that comes with no effort on our part.” You walk down the street and pick up an abandoned lottery ticket that changes your life. It’s simply good fortune.
Chance II: “One must distinguish between motion and progress.” Austin says that the more active you are, the more likely you are to stumble into something interesting.
For this type of chance to happen, you have to be curious and willing to explore. You may not have a dedicated focus, but if you continue to pursue avenues and activities, eventually something interesting will happen.
Chance III: “Chance presents only a faint clue, the potential opportunity exists, but it will be overlooked except by that one person uniquely equipped to observe it.”
The classic example here is Alexander Fleming who was uniquely sensitized, due to a previous experience, to make the leap that a random mold in his petri dish was secreting a substance that killed bacteria. Through this clue, he discovered antibiotics.
Chance IV: “Chance favors the individualized action.”Austin describes this chance as a unique “probing action” resulting from a distinctive personal approach. He says, “Chance IV favors those with distinctive, if not eccentric hobbies, personal life styles, and motor behaviors.”
Chance III & IV are extremely distinctive and individualized.
Chance IV says fortuitous events occur when you behave in distinctive ways, when you act in a manner that is unique to you as a person.
This chance occurs because of things you do that seem unrelated — hobbies, lifestyle choices, eccentricities.
In Chance III, your distinctive experiences sensitize you to be receptive. You have a unique ability to make connections and see insights.
That’s why work-life balance is artificial. Both work and life integrate together, enabling you to have unique insights and attack issues in your own way.
Passions make you unique, extreme, and different.
Your hobbies and passions are not a waste of time.
Personally, I’m always pushing myself to do something different — something out of the ordinary. I experiment, so I’m always testing new approaches for communication, fitness, learning.
This is simply because I enjoy learning new skills.
Last November, I walked up to the counter of Boston Sports Club and said “Can someone here teach me to jump rope like a boxer?” They all looked at each other confused and said, “Huh? Nobody has ever asked us that.”
I started slow but made steady progress.
Everyone should do things like this because it will help them see things differently. You will gain a perspective or an experience you can’t get sitting at your desk.
As Kary Mullis said after winning the Nobel Prize, “You don’t think in the lab as much.”
Just realize that the more active and diverse your activities, the more you’re able to create luck on command — in all aspects of your life.
You don’t have a “work self” and a “home self.” There’s only one person.
At Morphic Therapeutic, we want our employees to have an “on/off” mentality.
That means when they’re at work, they’re really at work. And when they’re off work, they’re really off work.
I don’t want people actively thinking about work while they’re eating dinner or watching their kid play soccer. That negative space is important.
But I’m hesitant to call it “work-life balance,” because that implies you have work, and then you have life. If you’re worried about this in your 20s & 30s, you are probably in the wrong profession. I believe it’s all integrated together.
You’re still bringing those unique talents and activities to your work and integrating them into what you’re doing at your job.
Let me give you an example.
On a photography safari in Africa, I learned how tracking in hunting and ecology is accomplished. This greatly expanded my understanding of how to be a pharmaceutical drug hunter. Similar to drugs and science, trackers are in a constant state of unknown. The way they train themselves to notice very subtle clues is an approach I now use to notice what’s important and what’s not.
When you have a wealth of experiences to bring to a problem, you are going to attack it in a different manner.
Those distinct experiences combine and recombine in new and interesting ways, and they disrupt your normal way of thinking.
When that happens, you leave the door open for chance to find you.