I am so exhausted by the current definition of work-life balance and the social barometer it has become for how well we’re doing at managing our overly busy lives. Here are two reasons why living your life like it’s a balancing act is a surefire way to feel exhausted and defeated.
First, your work life and your home life are not meant to be a balancing act. In fact, the very definition of a balancing act implies that the two entities you’re trying to balance – usually your work life and your home life – are at odds with one another. It’s your work life versus your home life, chores versus fitness, time with kids versus time in the office. It’s like the showcase showdown on The Price Is Right, but in this game, your family and your job each try to outbid the other for the precious time on your calendar. Stay tuned to see who wins! Dun, dun, dun.
If our work life and home life are literally and figuratively at odds with one another, how will we ever win? No wonder we feel so guilty about family matters when we’re busy at work, and so distracted by work when we’re at home. Work-life balance is a lose-lose metaphor.
I don’t see my life as a balancing act where either my home or my work must win over the other. I’m a whole person, and I bring my whole self to the table at all times. Sometimes that means bringing my work into my home life, and sometimes it means bringing my family into my work life.
My goal is not a proverbial tug of war battle. That sounds exhausting. My goal is peaceful co-existence.
Here are two recent examples of my work life and home life playing together nicely in the sandbox.
Exhibit A: I had a girls’ weekend at the beach where my friends and I spent more than an hour brainstorming ideas for a business client. The girls had fun, I had fun, and I got tons of new product ideas I could never have come up with on my own. My work wasn’t invading my personal time. I invited it to be there. I wasn’t balancing anything – except perhaps the beer on my beach chair.
Exhibit B: My daughter Layla helped our team design visual boards for a major popsicle manufacturer who was visiting our office. She heard about what I was working on, and she wanted to add some of her artwork to the cause, in the form of puppy-faced popsicles. Okay. Fine.
At that moment, I didn’t have to choose between my daughter and my job. I wasn’t in the middle of a seesaw trying to make everyone happy while I suffered. The two got along swimmingly, at least for an afternoon.
Now, it might be easy to dismiss my experience because I started my company, and I love what I do for a living. But it wasn’t always that way. My previous work life was indeed in conflict with my home life, and I made big, risky, and scary changes in my life to create a scenario where the two could co-exist. It is possible. I promise.
The second, but primary, reason work-life balance leads to a life of hopeless exhaustion is we do not consider ourselves in the balance equation. Think about all the metaphors we commonly use to describe a balanced life: Have you dropped one of the balls you’re juggling? Can you keep all the plates spinning? What exactly do all those balls and plates represent? Other people and their needs.
If you read between the lines, the metaphor of balance is asking you: Are you giving enough of yourself to your boss? Are you giving enough of yourself to your daughter, son, mother, brother, husband, and pet hamster? Guess what the answer to all those questions is always and forever going to be? No.
This new paradigm of wholeness is that it doesn’t pit work against domesticity, or exercise against spending time with your husband. It simply acknowledges that each of these is part of your wholeness. If you don’t believe this is possible in your current work-life scenario, then you might need to find a job that’s a better fit. You can’t, after all, get a new family. Or at least it’s not advised.
The right job fit is important, because I will tell you this: The more you love your job, the less it will feel like a chore that interferes with the rest of your life. The more you love your job, the less you will think about balance, and the more you will concentrate on wholeness.
When I was brainstorming with my friends, I was bringing my whole self to the party. When I share my personal struggles on a blog that’s affiliated with my business, I’m bringing my whole self to the office and to the world.
Let’s stop talking about a balancing act and start talking about acts of wholeness. Try completing this sentence: I feel like a whole person when _______.
Think of three different examples in the past year when you’ve felt whole, not stressed, or off-kilter. Do more of those things. Make more time for that. Find a way for that to be your new normal.
Pitch all the balls and plates outside yourself. Live a more fulfilling life. Live a life of wholeness.
Let’s stop talking about balance. The goal is wholeness. What makes you feel whole? Yes, this is a test. And there’s only one question. But it may be the most important question you ever answer.
Watch Katherine’s TEDx talk on modern motherhood here. And to read more from Katherine, check out her blog at KatherineWintsch.com.