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Personal vs. Professional: An Illusion of Separation



Erase The Illusion of Separate

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us ‘the universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical illusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” – Albert Einstein

This past week, I facilitated a workshop in Roanoke, West Virginia where we discussed Challenges and Opportunities for Entrepreneurs in the 21st Century.  Using Generative Dialogue as the foundation for this 3-day event, we shared our understanding about David Bohm’s views on fragmentation and wholeness and the illusion of separateness.   Dr. David Bohm was a quantum physicist who co-discovered that “everything interpenetrates everything”.  While our human nature may seek to categorize and subdivide, the deeper level of reality is that all things in the Universe are infinitely interconnected and all of Nature is ultimately a seamless web. So what does this have to do with our personal and professional lives?  

During our Dialogue practice sessions, I observed that the group circled back on three occasions to this question:  Is my personal life separate from my professional life?  Some of us held the world-view that there is no separation between our private and professional lives.  As one individual, you are involved in both – so how can you truly separate them?  Others held the view that personal life is definitely separate from professional life and in fact it should be, as it is not wise to connect the two.  

You have a work life.  You have a home life.  And traditionally, you are taught to separate the two – to leave your baggage at the door — building a barrier between what is going on at work from what is going on at home.  You are educated this way because it is generally socially accepted that bringing your personal issues to the office it too high risk, negatively affecting or even jeopardizing your job.

But let me ask you this: If Albert Einstein and David Bohm are correct; you cannot compartmentalize your life experiences into two separate boxes entitled, “Personal” and “Professional”. And since these two things cannot be divided, is it not these boundaries – the very barriers we place between home-life and work-life – that create a sense of separateness and dissonance? Are these boundaries the illusion that separates?

Let’s make things more practical.  You have a stressful or even traumatic issue happening at home.  While you can push aside or even push down what is happening for you, you cannot eliminate it completely.  By the same token, you have a crisis at the office.  Your business partner just quit without notice, taking all of your accounts with him.  This seeming disaster will affect you and your loved ones at home no matter how adept you are at “leaving it at the office”.  To expand upon these examples, as entrepreneurs, business owners and concerned citizens, the apprehensions you hold about the state of the world affects both your home and work life.  In fact, all of these things affect your life wholly because “everything interpenetrates everything”.  

If you’ve read Joseph Jaworski’s book, Synchronicity or the works of David Bohm on Dialogue, you’ve learned that collapsing boundaries between yourself and others is fundamental for “communication to become communion” – where empathy, intimacy and harmony exist. It is through this illusion – this assumption that boundaries are absolute – that we create disharmony in our relationships and ultimately our lives.  The notion that we can therefore separate our personal life from our professional life creates conflict.  

The Work-Life Balance Myth

If personal life and work life are not separate from one another, how do you contend with the over-used and often empty modern-day phrase: “Work-Life Balance?”  I would offer this… Stemming from my understanding of David Bohm’s theory on Wholeness, work is but one small part of Life.  So right from the outset, the term “work-life balance” feels fragmented.  I offer that we eliminate the term all together and consider creating balance from a Whole-Life perspective.  Add to that the notion of quality over quantity, and I believe we’ve discovered the magic formula.

At any given point in your life, there will be times when you have more focus on your personal life.  There will be other times that will require more focus on your professional life.  Like the tides of the ocean, there is an ebb and flow – and only you know where to place the emphasis. We are all seeking the “right combination” – rest and action; homelife and worklife; ambition and acceptance; engagement and retreat.  As long as you derive meaning and create harmony from as many actions in your life as possible, I think we’d all be better off dismissing this idea of work-life balance.  Instead of trying to live up to some myth that balance exists in the same way for everyone, let’s instead focus on the quality of our lives and what that means for us – and better yet, let’s enjoy it!


  1. Bill Fox on July 9, 2014 at 11:47 am

    Hi Susan,

    Great post and I loved your reflections on our group conversation at the workshop that I was so fortunate to attend. It reminded me of a recent conversation I had with Twan van de Kerkhov on this topic.

    Twan said, ” I think one of my paths in my life is that the difference between what I am to myself, and what I am to others is as small as possible. I feel at my best when there is no difference at all, when the two flow together.”

    A profound statement I feel. As my personal and professional lives have merged, it has brought about profound change in my life.

    Lots of love,

    • Susan Taylor on July 11, 2014 at 7:31 am


      Thanks so much for your comment and for sharing Twan’s words. Very profound indeed and a beautiful description of Flow.

      Thank you!

    • Terry on August 23, 2014 at 5:35 pm

      That’s a post full of insights!

  2. Susan on October 29, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Thank you, Terry!

  3. Help Them Find Their Best Selves - Curtis McHale on November 27, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Some of you may think that ‘home stays at home’ but that’s totally a lie. We are each one person and stress at home will affect our job.

    • Susan Taylor on December 16, 2014 at 10:33 am

      I agree. And stress at the job will affect home life; one cannot separate personal from professional.

  4. Runa Bouius on January 21, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    Thank you Susan for continuing to bring out to the world the more expansive world-view and remind us that we are all inter-connected and inter-dependent. I believe that Einstein and Bohm are right.

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