What Work-Life Balance Really Means: Why We Must Prioritize Our Lives

by Brian Link

It is often said Americans live to work.

The pursuit of greatness consists of blood, sweat and tears left on the table after grueling work sessions.

Our counterparts up north and across the pond view work as a way to sustain the lives they want to live (that is, to fully embrace life without the stresses and burn-out from the workday).

But here, our work-life balance isn't balanced at all and the "work" end of the spectrum is what's usually weighted down.

Time and time again, we hear our friends and family gripe about how work is getting them down.

Yet, they'll continue to push themselves to the limit to achieve success in the workplace.

All of this is paired with the wishful thinking they will be fulfilled somewhere down the road.

The invisible scripts in our heads tell us if we work hard and grind it out, we will be happy with all of the accomplishments we've made over the years.

We've heard it all too many times: The aspiring Wall Street banker who associates glossy titles and fat paychecks with success runs himself into the ground from pulling 80-hour weeks.

He embraces the hustle and grind in order to afford the next tailored suit and sweet Financial District apartment.

Then one day, after performing the same spreadsheet model for the umpteen-thousandth time, he has the "Great Gatsby"-esque realization that all the wealth in the world juxtaposed with a lack of fulfillment is disastrous. Thus, his view of the world becomes bleak and gloomy.

This happens across America all the time in a wide variety of industry professions.

Imagine following the narrative you were told all of your life and being let down in utter disappointment.

Go to a great university and get a high-paying job with security, they say. That seems fine and dandy, but why do Americans falter when achieving their so-called dreams?

It's from the misconception of what is supposed to be work-life balance. Americans seem to have no concept of the preservation of life in that equation.

Just like the law of equilibrium, our day-to-day lives must be structured with equal and opposing forces.

Did you know Gothenburg, Sweden is conducting a one-year test of a city-wide 30-hour work week?

They recognize productivity will skyrocket with shorter hours, as employees won't twiddle away an extra 70 hours by mindlessly scrolling through Twitter and Instagram.

Employees will also have much more time to do what excites and energizes them.

They will have more time to make themselves feel more alive, and that energy will seep into their work lives.

Italians sip on their coffee in the coffee bars, and they enjoy the establishment's atmosphere and the company of their neighbors. Starbucks' on-the-go cups are a joke to them and a fiction in their worlds.

Spaniards close down their businesses in the middle of the day to take siestas, which are naps. That's right; naps are built into their workdays. They also take this time to enjoy a meal with family and friends.

See a trend? Europeans have built tangible events and processes to add daily fulfillment to their lives.

So, what can we do to counterbalance the grind?

Regularly practice gratitude.

It's scientifically proven those who take time out of their days to be grateful for what they have are happier than those who don't.

Just like Spanish folk, schedule time with your friends and family on a regular basis to enjoy their company.

Take care of yourself.

Be proactive in practicing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Fitness, healthy eating and enhancing your well-being will produce enormous dividends in other aspects of your life.

Take up a hobby.

Allow yourself to work hard at something and build upon your skills. This accomplishment alone will make you feel more fulfilled.

Travel, travel, travel.

Let famous chef and world traveler Anthony Bourdain explain: "Travel changes you.

As you move through this life and this world, you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small.

And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you.  Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt."  Travel to gain perspective and grow.

Pursuit of passion.

Work in an environment you know you can give your all to and pour your heart into. Be able to wake up in the morning and be excited to go to work.

Work will come easily if you love what you do and the results will definitely show.