Work-Life Balance: The Concept, Myth and Alternative Ways to Think About It
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The phrase “work-life balance” has been used for many years to define the holy grail of happiness and fulfillment for those who find themselves juggling a career and other life roles all at once. While there are countless definitions that clarify what is intended by this phrase, if taken at face value, it can lead you on a difficult, if not impossible, quest. But not to worry, there is a clearer, more realistic, and more empowering way to create a life you love.
First, let’s examine a couple of myths that the phrase implies.
Myth #1: You can Balance Work and life, One for One, All the Time
The word “balance” is usually defined as “equal on all sides” or comprising an even distribution. So, with this meaning of the word, you set yourself up for failure when you try to “balance” work and life. The reality is that sometimes you will need or want to focus on work: you need to meet that deadline, you want to nail that presentation with your customer, etc. And other times, you will need or want to focus on life: you need to take your child to the doctor, you want to celebrate your parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. If you try for equal balance at all times, you may fall short.
Some have offered “harmony” as an alternative – as in “work-life harmony” – where the two play together to create a melodious life. Certainly, this is a much more achievable goal and one that invokes a sense of peace and unity.
Myth #2: “Work” and “Life” are Separate Entities
Using the term “work-life” to represent your life roles puts work squarely against everything else, including but not limited to your health and wellness, family, social interactions, and charitable/community work. In doing so, this binary “work or life” categorization can create a resentment or resistance to work any time you perceive it coming in the way of enjoying any other aspect of your life.
The truth is that work and life are not separate. Work is part of life, just as much a part of life as every other aspect. As such, it doesn’t have to be put at odds with other things you enjoy. It could be added to the list of everything that makes up your life. For example, you may go to work and spend your lunch hour connecting to your soul through a yoga class. You may have the best conversation of the day as you walk with a friend to get an afternoon cup of coffee. Your co-workers may become your closest friends. You may bring your team together to work at a Food Bank during the holidays. If work contributes to your wellness, friendships, and social contribution, is it really so separate from your life?
A Different Perspective
To honor all of the hats you wear, when you wear them, and for how long, it may be time for a new phrase and a new approach.
Rather than “striving for work-life balance,” consider one of these alternate phrases (or come up with your own):
“Living in peace and harmony”
“Creating a passionate life”
“Prioritizing one day at a time”
Also, to avoid resenting the time you spend working, make sure you are feeding your soul regularly:
Make a list of 5-10 things that fill your tank physical, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Then take a look at your calendar, and schedule these things on a monthly basis.
Next, make sure they happen! Guard them religiously, and give up the time to something else only if you know you can still make them happen within the month.
In addition, look for ways to bring personal goodness to your work:
Make your breaks and/or lunch hours count, whether through exercise, connecting with friends, or simply quiet time for yourself.
If you have to travel, can you add a day – or an hour – of fun on the front or back end, or even in the middle? Can you take your favorite book for the flight or podcast for the drive?
Develop friendships in the office. Consider what you could do to raise the energy there for you and those around you.
Stephen Covey wrote about a wonderful practice around creating a life we love:
First, define your life roles (your “big rocks”)
Then take time at the beginning of every week—not a lot of time, maybe 15-30 minutes – to write down one thing you will do to take care of each of those roles.
Schedule those things first and let the rest of the “pebbles” fit into the empty spaces around the big rocks.
In doing so, you will have the satisfaction of devoting time to the things that matter most to you.
While the intention of “work-life balance” is pure, actually, in its purest form, it is a tall order and perhaps not even exactly what you want. Words are powerful, so declare clearly what you want your life to be, plan, and then execute…and let work not be a barrier, but a facilitator to your best life!
A version of this article was originally published at SharpHeels.
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