Humblebrag and Work Life Balance

First it was Greg McKeown’s superb blog at Harvard Business Review. Then it was the NBC News Business article by Martha White. It seems that the new buzzword related to work/life balance is humblebrag. defines it as saying something that seems not to be focused on pride, but is actually boasting. Harris Wittels, the comedian and writer who popularized the word, even has a book about it.

Here’s how it works related to work life balance: We consciously overload ourselves with activity, and then tell the world about it. We wear it like a badge of honor that we are so important and have arrived at a point in life that we have so much to do. We tweet, post, pin, instagram, and do anything else possible to communicate the level of activity we have in our life.

We pack our schedules because everyone else is doing it, never stopping to think that those who choose to live overloaded lives may be the most miserable people in the world.

I love McKeown’s response to this condition. In the NBC article he is quoted as saying, “We are more aware than at any time in history of what everyone else is doing and, therefore, what we 'should' be doing." He blames social media, smart phones and extreme consumerism. As I read the article I kept hearing my mom saying, “If everyone else was jumping off a cliff, would you do it too?”

In Getting to It, I write that we can’t get everything done and instead need to focus on the most important things. People who humblebrag don’t want to choose any one thing, but instead want the allure of having it all-because it seems like that’s the mark of a successful person. Truth is, they only have days upon days of busyness and rarely connect on a deeper level in their jobs, with relationships, and with their deepest personal goals and priorities.

The solution offered by many experts, including McKeown, is to pursue doing less. His book on the subject is titled Essentialism. Focus on saying no more often and seek to extract more meaning and value out of the activities you do take on each day.

As I think about those around me who humblebrag about all they have to do, I am reminded of the quote by Mary O’Connor: It’s not so much that you are busy, but why are you busy: The bee is praised; the mosquito is swatted. Being busy so you can tell others how busy you are seems to be the latter and not the former.

Where do you need to pursue less activity in your life?