Do you believe in the myth of work-life balance?
Looking for work-life balance working from home?
I have been a working mom since before I had kids. So, I know a thing or two about work-life balance.
I always wanted to have kids, but I also knew I wanted to continue working. I love working and I love what I do. And I have enjoyed my career since it began 100 years ago (well, more like 25, but some days it feels way longer). I’ve loved it through every bump, hiccup, and multiple evolutions along the way.
The trouble is that I’ve always tried to give 100% to everything I do. Can you relate? Wanting to give 100% to your home life and 100% to your work life?
So, as my life evolved beyond just my career as a young person, things started to get complicated. I found myself trying to do my best in momming and working and wifing and friending and just plain living…and well, let’s just say there was an imbalance.
When Will You Find Work-Life Balance?
For years I hustled and told myself it would eventually get easier. Maybe once I got to the top of the ladder? Or even partway up the ladder? Or maybe when I started my own business and got to set my own hours? Then I could work less and spend more time doing the other things I enjoyed.
The truth is, it never got easier. It got more complex. I was given more responsibility. I was required to do more to maintain the pace of success. And the older I got the more things I suddenly became aware of “needing to add” into my day to day routine in order to live a “full” life.
Like spending enough time at work, enough time with the kids, enough time on my self-care, enough time on my relationships.
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Was I spending enough time on looking after my home, ensuring I was delegating, ensuring I was asking for help?
What about making sure I was taking part in personal growth activities, occasionally cooking a meal from scratch at home, oh, and exercising…?
Then came the kids and their activities (don’t even get me started on Pinterest)…and the tenuous illusion of balance I thought I had created went downhill from there.
For years, I labored under the impression that the goal was to balance. I would often imagine there was a large set of brass scales that had “work” on one side and “life” on the other. I felt like my mission was to give equal time to each so that I could achieve that mythical work-life balance.
And there’s the truth: work-life balance is a myth. You know that, right?
What is Work-Life Balance and Why is it Important?
Traditionally, work life balance has been viewed as the ability to separate work and home life, basically implying that the stress of work shouldn’t follow you home and vice versa. This balance would allow you to “decompress” from work and devote time to other areas of your life, which would fulfill you, in turn rejuvenating you for more work.
It wasn’t really an issue until women started moving into the workplace in large numbers. I mean, think about it.
In most traditional jobs, we spend the majority of our day at work. A lot of people put in overtime. Add that up and for life to become about your work. It’s so easy to get sucked into living for the job. And for a lot of people, that is exactly what it became.
When women went into the workplace, we saw mom guilt skyrocket as women struggled to juggle the responsibilities of the office, and eventually the board room, with their responsibilities as mothers and caregivers (and wives, and best friends, and…).
We were feeling the stress, the overwhelm.
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The Creation of Work-Life Balance
And so, the concept of work life balance was born.
Workplaces started asking how they could achieve a healthy life balance alongside the rigors of the workplace. They started offering things like flexible time, or family-related time off, and mental health support, among other “perks” — all designed to make us feel like we could continue to work at the pace we were always working and still maintain a fulfilling life outside of the office.
In more recent years, the studies have expanded on the benefits (mostly at-work benefits) of being able to achieve this mythical balance, including better productivity, better engagement, fewer health problems, and less burnout to name a few.
But this still only works if you assume that it’s possible to draw a nice neat box around work and another one around the home.
Trust me. You can’t.
Can You Separate Work from Home?
Here’s what so many people forget: LIFE IS NOT COMPARTMENTAL.
What you experience in one area of life is going to bleed into every other. If you’re stressed at work, you will undoubtedly bring that emotion home with you. If you’re worried about your kids or spouse or dog, you can’t turn that off at work.
It’s kind of like spot training…you know, being able to just do 100 crunches a day to get those rock-hard abs. No need to worry about overall fat loss, or full-body workouts, or working out other areas of the body.
We know now that spot training doesn’t work…because all the parts of the body don’t exist in silos.
Well, neither do the different areas of your life.
Yet the work-life balance myth persists.
The boxes have gotten even messier since we all started working from home because of the pandemic.
Now there’s even less clarity between work and the rest of your life because you’re doing it all from the same place.
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A Healthier Alternative to “Work-Life Balance”
So, what are we really looking for if not work life balance?
I think the idea of work-life balance was a grand one. But to be honest, the problem isn’t with work or with life.
It’s with us and our expectations. We’ve been conditioned to think we need to have it all and do it all. Or that having and doing it all is even possible.
So, we keep adding to the scale – hot yoga for me, tutors for the kids, after school activities, working on weekends, going into the office early, answering emails on vacation, cooking healthy meals from home, screen-free time, meditation…
We keep adding to one side, then the other, in the hope that one day we’ll find just the right mix of activities in order to achieve a perfect balance.
Instead, we should be throwing the damn scales out.
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I can’t achieve work life balance if I can’t measure my success
“How on earth can I achieve balance if I have nothing to measure with?”, you may be asking. But that’s the whole point.
We need to stop worrying about a balance we’re never going to achieve and embrace the fact that some days we’ll be leaning more heavily into work, and other days we’ll be leaning more heavily into life.
Leaning more into work means some days we’ll drop the ball all over the place in our personal lives. We’ll miss social activities, the babysitter may have to stay later, we may have to eat takeout all week.
Leaning more into life means some days we’ll have to turn off emails after work, or turn down a high-profile assignment, or reschedule meetings.
We may have to let go of the notion that the treats I send to school with the kids for Bake Sale Day aren’t Pinterest-worthy (and maybe even purchased the night before from the local bakery). We may need to draw lines in the sand at work and not be on call all day every day during a project or launch.
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If it’s not about work life balance, then what’s it about?
I get it, none of that may sound ideal. The idea of “dropping balls” can make a lot of people nervous. Doesn’t that mean you’re letting people down?
Yep. You are. But chasing a balance that you’re never going to catch is going to let everyone down, too. Especially you.
So, here’s what you should be doing instead.
How to Achieve Healthy Life Balance (Instead of Work-Life Balance)
#1. Decide on Your Priorities
What is important to you RIGHT NOW? What areas of your life do you need to give attention to?
Our lives can be divided into 8 areas or “categories”:
- Career / Business
- Health and Wellness
- Intimate Relationships
- Personal Goals / Spiritual Development
- Friends / Family / Social
- Hobbies / Fun
- Living Environment
Now before you panic, you don’t have to give equal attention to all 8 areas. That would be unrealistic (and if you still believe in “balance” your initial thought may have been exactly that).
Then, Rate Them from 1 – 10
No, the first step is to rate your level of happiness on a scale of 1-10 in each of these areas.
Then pick 1-3 MAX that you want to make a priority over the next 3-6 months. Decide on ONE activity in each of those 1-3 areas that you need to engage in more consistently and then make time in your week to incorporate those activities.
That’s it. Those are your current priorities and it’s okay to drop the ball in all of the other areas right now because we know we can come back to them later.
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Plus, 3-6 months is realistically how long it takes to embed new habits through consistent effort.
For example, maybe I’m not happy about how stressed I am all the time, so I’ve decided that I need to incorporate meditation or yoga into my week. I will commit to including yoga three times a week for the next 3-6 months. COMMIT. As I put it in my calendar and make it a non-negotiable.
But that also means I drop anything else that isn’t serving me right now. Or I table adding more until my first 3-6 months is over.
#2. Establish Your Boundaries
The next thing you need to do is decide where your boundaries are. These are the lines that you have that will allow you to maintain control over the level of access people have to you or the behavior you will tolerate from others.
Maybe that means:
- your clients are free to email you whenever they want, but you will NOT respond outside of working hours anymore.
- asking your spouse for 20 minutes of alone time (ie: they watch the kids) at the end of the workday to decompress and transition out of your work headspace.
- you shut your phone off at 6 pm each night to keep the temptation of scrolling at bay (yes, boundaries are also important for you to honor for yourself).
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The key here is to not only decide what you’re willing to tolerate but to then communicate the value of that boundary to the people it will impact.
Boundaries are important to set but they’re useless if you can’t enforce them. And they’re easier to enforce when others can see how it benefits them to comply.
#3. Give Yourself Grace
And finally, be kind to yourself.
You don’t need to have it all. You don’t need to do it all. Work life balance is not real.
Life is always going to be about choice: You CHOOSE consciously what you give your attention to.
You CHOOSE what is important to spend your time on.
Adding more to the mix in the hopes of balancing it out is like cutting one side of your hair too short and so you keep cutting each side shorter and shorter to try to even them out…eventually, you’ll end up needing to wear a hat for 6 months.
Forget the Myth of Work Life Balance Today
It really boils down to deciding what is important to spend your time on and that will evolve from day to day, week to week, and that’s okay.
It was never really about balance. It’s always been about flexibility and choice.
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And the space to learn through trial and error.
Let go of the notion of having it all and doing it all.
Instead, pick and choose what’s important, do your best, and let it be enough.
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Do you believe the myth of work life balance?
More About Guest Contributor
As a certified personal and professional development coach since 2004, it’s Sarah’s passion and purpose to help women realize they don’t have to try harder, be better, or change who they are completely in order to feel fulfilled. As a teacher, coach, business manager, and mother of 2 powerhouse girls, Sarah has spent her whole life trying to make things make sense for herself and those she serves. You can find her at thesarahkhan.com.