Work/life balance is a frequently sought after (and when I say sought after, I mean lace up those sneakers and chase this thing as hard and fast as we can at all times) concept that we desperately want to apply in our lives. And while it often feels just out of reach, I find it interesting that it means different things to different people.
This is the Wikipedia definition of work/life balance.
Work/life balance is a concept including proper prioritization between “work” (career and ambition) and “lifestyle” (health, pleasure, leisure, family, spiritual development/meditation). This is related to the idea of “lifestyle choice.”
I’ve underlined two words in this definition. Prioritization and choice. The concept of work/life balance may be universally understood the specifics of how it appears in our individual lives varies upon priorities and choices.
To ensure we all have the same chance to experience work/life balance, even if our expressions of the concept are all different, I want to cover the #1 myth associated with the concept of work/life balance.
#1 Myth: That there is such a thing as work/life balance.
What? I know you are sitting there going “what you talking about Stacy?” What do you mean there is no such thing as work/life balance?
Here’s the deal. Work/life balance is a myth. That myth asks us to view an ideal life as a set of perfectly level scales. On the tray on one side is your personal life. On the other side is your work life. The myth makes us believe that with super-human efforts, it’s possible to keep both trays exactly level all the time. If one starts to tip too far, we just make some quick adjustment that balances them again.
In reality, that perfect balance almost never occurs, except for those rare moments when the trays pass each other on the way up or down – and typically we’re too frazzled by trying to achieve perfect balance to even notice that brief moment.
So, if that’s the myth, what’s the truth?
The truth is, what we really want is better and more control. We need and desire better ways to manage our work/life boundaries. But to make that happen, we have to understand that not everything is in our control. In reality both work and life – ebb and flow in their demands. The more we assume leadership and responsibility of our own lives – based upon our priorities, instead of waiting for someone else to do it for us, the better able we are to deal with juggling it all.
So, it’s not really about achieving balance. It’s really about achieving optimal integration of the two. What are some examples of that? A basic example is understanding that sometimes work is going to take more than its fair share of your time and sometimes life is going to take more than its fair share. For instance, let’s say you have a project that is requiring extra time at the office. So to offset that time you have some vacation time scheduled. So, it’s not perfectly balanced but the scale tips one way and then tips back the other way. The danger comes when we allow it to tip to one side for too long. That’s when the stress, the anxiety, and the burnout occurs.
So, if it’s really about control. How do we go about gaining more control in this area? Here are two tricks to maintain those things that are in your control when it comes to the integration of work and life.
First – take ownership. A great way to take ownership is to set boundaries. No one is going to do that for you. But in order to be successful at setting boundaries, you have to be aware of those things in your control and those things out of your control. Deciding whether or not to attend a mandatory off-site management meeting on a Saturday vs. hanging out with your kids is not in your control (unless of course you are looking for a way to get fired). However, deciding to take an afternoon off to spend with your kids to make up for the Saturday you missed is in your control. And believe it or not, no one is going to encourage you or make that suggestion for you. It’s something you have to take ownership of. And then on top of that, you have to honor that time by resisting the urge to pick the phone or answer an email from the office if they try to get in contact with you. You must set and stick to those boundaries to see benefit.
Second – Control your mind. Wait that sounds weird. Controlling my mind will allow me to acquire more work/life balance? Yes. How many of you say this on a regular basis – “I don’t have enough time” or “there just isn’t enough time in the day”. We all say it. But saying there isn’t enough time comes from a place of lack. Lack says there isn’t enough. Abundance says there is just enough. Saying I have just enough time to get those things that are priorities for me accomplished because I have control over my time (to a certain degree, right) allows you to claim the power and control over the balance. Going back to the Wikipedia definition of work/life balance you have control over the priorities and therefore can choose what things to dedicate your time to. Sometimes that means saying no to non-mission critical things. Sometimes that means asking for help. But knowing you have control in this way creates ease, relaxation, and balance.
Another way to control your mind is to be present. If you spend all day at work thinking about your responsibilities at home and then spend all day at home thinking about your responsibilities at work, you will never be in balance. The best you can give yourself and others is to be fully present in whatever you choose to do at any moment in time.
Accepting that life doesn’t look like a perfectly level set of scales but more like a see-saw that tips one way then the other and acknowledging that you can take control of how long the seat rests on the ground on each side, will give you the power to achieve that perfect balance that works best in your life. And you define that balance by the priorities you set and the choices you make to support those priorities. Don’t wait on someone to do it for you. Do it for yourself. Do it now.