Would we be happier if we got the balance right?
Probably not! We cling to the fantasy of work-life balance because it’s hard to admit that we can’t stay on top of the many demands we face. We prefer to imagine that there’s a recipe for holding it all together.
So should we lose the idea of work-life balance?
Yes. We need to realise that we simply can’t give everyone in our lives what they need, when they need it. Our time and energy are limited. We can’t balance the endless demands from all sides especially since many of them come at us out of the blue and upset the neatly planned deadlines we set to cope with the demands we already have.
Balance means off-setting opposing weights or forces. When we say ‘no’ to one thing, we say ‘yes’ to another. So we’re constantly letting one side down as we please another. It is a competitive concept that actually adds to our stress.
We always feel fragmented and never get to be fully present in any part of our lives. If we chase the myth of work-life balance, we’ll always be defeated.
The underlying problem with the idea of work-life balance is that it is a way of life based on external demands rather than internal direction. It leaves us unhappy and frustrated, living second-hand lives, as we try to be what other people want us to be, rather than who we are.
How do we deal with conflicting demands?
It’s not easy, but it is simple. We need to live inside-out. That means knowing who you are and what you need, which is a function of your values, and making choices and taking action consistent with this. Then your life will be composed of cooperative components that support and benefit one another.
Such integration begins with the examination of who we are and who we want to be. It is only possible if we don’t base who we are on the approval of others. That means making some hard, value-based choices. It’s easier to play the victim and let circumstances and other people decide our lives for us. But by taking responsibility for how we choose to spend our time and energy, we become empowered managers of our own lives.
Yes, but how?
- Speak differently: Replace ‘I have to’ with ‘I want to’, emphasising that everything is a choice. That will help you make decisions.
- Get natural: Spend some time in nature and practice being deeply present there. The sea, mountains and countryside don’t need anything from you and so help you to get perspective.
- Don’t rescue: If your partner’s balance is out, don’t protect them from consequences by covering for them. Rather remind them of their core values.
- Be inclusive: If you’re an employer or manager, include partners and, if possible, children, in staff functions. That will change the type of function that can be planned, but that’s the point. The partners of your employees are involved in your work dynamics so you’ll benefit from acknowledging that.