I’m a work-at-home-mom with two kids under the age of four. I’ve been doing the freelancing-from-home gig since my eldest was two months old. And despite nearly four years of evidence to the contrary, I still wake up every single morning believing that today will be the day I cross off every item on my to-do list — from paid work to exercise to housekeeping to errands to childcare.
And every evening, when I look sadly over the long list of things left undone, I shake my head and wonder if I’ll ever achieve that elusive “work/life balance” I’ve been striving for.
As it turns out, however, I’m probably worrying about work/life balance unnecessarily — and am making myself a little crazy to boot. That’s because our concept of work/life balance doesn’t really exist.
Consider the following:
Why Work/Life Balance Doesn’t Exist
1. We don’t have a good definition of work/life balance
When we talk about the importance of work/life balance, every individual is bringing a different interpretation to the table. My (somewhat laughable) definition is being able to get everything done and still have time for my kids and hobbies. Another person might define it as being able to turn off their email in the evenings. Yet another might decide they’re balanced when they have enough time to enjoy their high earnings.
Unless you have a clear definition of work/life balance, it’s impossible to achieve it. (And in my case, even having a “definition” doesn’t help, because what I want is simply impossible — until I figure out how to clone myself.) Talking vaguely about needing work/life balance won’t help until you decide what it is you’re truly after.
2. We treat work/life balance as a zero-sum game
Part of the problem with achieving balance is the fact that we describe it as a competition between our work and our lives. We talk about work and life as if they’re two separate spheres — when the fact is that all of our time is our life. Not only does pitting “work” against “life” in this equation make it seem as though there’s no real way to enjoy your job, but it also suggests that adding to one area will subtract from the other.
That’s not always the case, though: Getting a promotion and working harder doesn’t detract from your life if you enjoy your job. And taking the time you need to care for a family member, exercise, or otherwise take care of your “life” often makes you more effective at work.
3. We think balance is a destination
We have a sense that achieving work/life balance is something you have to do once, and then you’re done. You have the schedule/understanding boss/good babysitter/workout routine/dinner plan that works for you, and you’ll simply sit on that perfect confluence forever, having attained the coveted work/life balance.
But the fact of the matter is that balance is not a stable state. Think about walking across a tightrope: You may be able to stop in the middle, but you’ll be much safer if you keep moving, so you can correct yourself if you start to fall. Life balance is similar. You’ll constantly need to make adjustments to keep the various parts of your life in good order.
Learning to Balance
Striving for balance in your life is something that will take intentional effort every day. Rather than seeking out yet another app or time management guru, take the time each day to ask which parts of your life need a little attention from you. Answering this question will naturally lead to a life that feels more balanced.
Do you think work/life balance is a myth? Why or why not?