Nigel Marsh on Work-Life Balance



“If you don’t design your life, someone else will design it for you and you just might not like their idea of balance.” – Nigel Marsh

Work-life balance continues to be an ongoing challenge.

The boundaries between work and life blend and blur in our “always on”, increasingly connected world.

Fat, Forty, Fired

Nigel Marsh is author of Fat,Forty,Fired: One Man’s Frank,Funny,and Inspiring Account of Losing His Job and Finding His Life.

Nigel was a corporate warrior that was eating too much, drinking too much, working too hard, and neglecting the family.   He spent a year off of work with his wife and children in an attempt to turn his life around and address work-life balance.

In the end, he found it was easy to balance work and life when there was no work, which wasn’t very useful when there wasn’t any money.

He’s spent the 7 years since, struggling with, studying, and writing about work-life balance.

Nigel shares his lessons learned and observations in this short and inspiring video about how to win the battle for work-life balance.

Video – Nigel Marsh: Work Life Balance is an Ongoing Battle

This is Nigel Marshes TED talk on how work-life balance is an ongoing battle:

An Idea on Work-Life Balance Worth Spreading

At the heart of Nigel’s presentation, is an idea worth spreading.

Nigel writes:

“Being more balanced doesn’t mean dramatic upheaval in your life.  With the smallest investment in the right places, you can radically transform the quality of your relationships and the quality of your life … moreover,  I think, it can transform society … because if enough people do it … we can change society’s definition of success … away from the moronically simplistic notion that the person with the most money dies wins to a more thoughtful and balanced definition of what a life well-lived looks like … and that, I think, is an idea worth spreading.”

Nigel’s 4 Observations on Work-Life Balance

  1. If society is to make any progress, we need an honest debate.
  2. Face the truth, government and institutions aren’t going to solve this problem for us.
  3. We have to be careful with the timeframe that we choose upon which to judge our balance.
  4. We need to approach balance in a balanced way.

Observation #1 – If society is to make any progress, we need an honest debate.

On Observation #1, Nigel makes the following points:

  • Flexi time, dress down Friday, maternity leave just mask the core issue.
  • Certain job and career choices are fundamentally incompatible with being meaningfully engaged with a young family.
  • Acknowledge the reality
  • Don’t fall into the trap – work long hard hours at jobs they hate to enable things to buy they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.

Observation #2 – Face the truth, government and institutions aren’t going to solve this problem for us.

On observation #2, Nigel makes the following points:

  • Take control and responsibility for the types of lives we want to lead.
  • If you don’t design your life, someone else will design it for you and you just might not like their idea of balance
  • Never put the hands of your life in the hands of a commercial corporation.  Commercial companies are inherently designed to get as much out of you as they can get away with, even the good, well-intentioned companies.
  • We have to be responsible for setting and enforcing the boundaries that we want in our lives.

Observation #3 – We have to be careful with the timeframe that we choose upon which to judge our balance.

On observation #3, Nigel makes the following points:

  • We need to be realistic, we can’t do it all in one day.
  • We need to elongate the time frame upon which we judge the balance in our life, but we need to elongate it, without falling into the trap of, “I’ll have a life when I retire” … “when my kids have left home” … “When my wife has divorced me” … “my health is failing” … “I have no mates or interests left” … a day is too short … after I retire is too long … there’s got to be a middle way.

Observation #4 – We need to approach balance in a balanced way.

On observation #4, Nigel makes the following points:

  • Being a fit 10 hour a day office rat isn’t more balanced, it’s more fit.
  • There are other parts to life … there’s the intellectual side, there’s the emotional side, there’s the spiritual side … and to be balanced, I believe we have to attend to all of those areas, not just those 50 stomach crunches.
  • The small things matter.

You Can Win the Battle Work-Life Balance

If you embrace the challenge, and make small changes, you can win the ongoing battle of work-life balance.

In my experience, work-life balance is really a matter of mindset, setting boundaries and buffers, and driving from my life style (i.e. choosing the jobs and paths that match the life style I want to create).

To master work-life balance, means both knowing the nature of the beast (i.e. the job I’ve chosen) and my personal habits and patterns.

To set effective boundaries, I’ve found it helps to think of my life as a portfolio and set minimums or maximums for key Hot Spots in my life, such as career, body, relationships, etc., and stay flexible in my approach.

Enjoy the video and share any of your observations or lessons learned in the battle of work-life balance.

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  1. I don’t know about work/life balance. What do you balance against life exactly?

    Changing society’s definition of success is an excellent idea that I think would lead to much happier lives. (My first free report was called It’s Not About Success – the idea being that it is about authenticity).

    The way I stay sane really boils down to asking myself: Do I want to do this? (If not do I want the consequences of not doing it? or, Can I find an easier way to do it?)

    I think ‘balance’ can be a problem. It can lead to being all over the shop. But perhaps I’m just an obsessive with narrow interests.

  2. J.D. – this was very interesting. An introduction for me to Nigel, who is obviously well versed in his knowledge in work life balance.

    Observation #2 was very, very impacting upon me. We must own it…can’t wait and expect for someone else to make it happen for us. I don’t want anyone else designing my life!

    This was great…thanks for the intro to Nigel.

  3. Good article. I agree completely, especially with the part about designing your own life. It’s so true that if you don’t, somebody else will do it for you, and let’s be honest here — who cares the most about your best interests? You do.

  4. @ Scott — Thank you. His book was a riot.

    @ Evan — I think ultimately you balance life against priorities and pain points against who you want to be and what experiences you want to create.

    I think how we define success for ourselves changes everything. Here are some of my favorites:
    – Stephen Covey – “Success is when the response meets the challenge.”
    – John Maxwell – “Those who know you the best, love you the most.”

    Authenticity seems like a good guideline. Driving from your values and playing to your strengths and being congruent is way to create fulfillment.

    I’ve seen people all over the board, which to me is a lack of focus and balance. I think the key focus for balance is to balance where you’re out of balance, whether that’s “workaholic” or “relationship trouble” or “out of shape” … etc.

    @ JK — It’s eye-opening and empowering. If you want more balance, design more balance. If you want to spend more time in your strengths, spend more time in your strengths. If you want more quality time for XYZ, then make more time for XYZ.

    It’s funny how easy it is to fall into the trap of waiting for somebody to suddenly create the ideal job where we play to our strengths, spend less time in our weaknesses, follow our passion, use the best of our ability, etc. The person we’re always waiting on is ourself. We’re the author of our life and we have to write our stories forward.
    We know what lights our fire, we know our strengths, we know our balance, we know our values … we’re the best seat in the house to design our lives and drive from what we want. If we don’t know these, then job #1, is figuring them out.

    @ Kyle — Thank you. You put it so well. It is about who cares the most about your best interest — you do. I think Nigel made a great point that it’s in the company’s DNA to get the most out of you. That really puts things in perspective. It’s really a reminder that you have to own shaping your job to spend more time in your strengths, more time in your values, less time in things you hate, and more time creating value, while balancing your life and all the demands on your time, beyond just work.

  5. Hi JD,
    I like the frank look at this question. Nigel acknowledges the ruthless rules of reality in an empowering way. Life plays out in many domains… if we are to live richly, it is up to us and only us to experience life fully.

  6. @ Rob — Life does play out in so many domains. It seems like a recurring pattern of leading a life you want, comes down to owning it and acting on what you want. Our minds sure know how to be resourceful once we get deliberate.

  7. Great post. I also watched and summarized Nigel’s TED talk and your notes are spot on. What’s your favorite single piece of advice from the talk?

  8. @ Joe — Thank you.

    My favorite part is the way this is put:
    “Certain job and career choices are fundamentally incompatible …”

    I’m a fan of driving from lifestyle.

  9. Hello. I loved watching Nigel give his TED talk and think he is spot on! I have been working on a work-life balance presentation for a wellness expo and really want to produce a presentation that hits home and speaks to the audience. After watching this clip I am compelled to use his points as an educational tool that the audience will relate to.

    Are there any copyright laws I would be breaking in doing so? I would give Nigel full credit as well as supply his information to the audience. Can someone address this concern and let me know if I am OK to proceed? I very much appreciate the assistance.


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