Have you noticed that the new trend is to claim that work-life balance is a myth? In fact just today in the monthly Costco Connection magazine, Rachel Hollis – author of New York Times Best Seller Girl, Wash Your Face and the new Girl, Stop Apologizing – states that “Work-life balance is a myth. More than that, it’s a hurtful myth.”
Sure, in the strictest, most rigid and one-size-fits-all sense of the definition – “an EVEN distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady” – perfect balance is unrealistic. Generally, if you work 8 hours a day, and add on any commuting time you might have, it would be pretty hard to achieve a perfect match of quality family time on a daily basis. There are just not enough hours in a day.
But, I disagree that means we have to go as far as to firmly conclude that BALANCE IS A MYTH. Why? Because balance can mean different things to different people.
It can be all in the way you think about it. When you think about other definitions of balance, such as “correct proportions”, “keeping something in a steady position so that it does not fall”, or “offset the value of one thing with another”, I still firmly believe that the concept of work-life balance can be quite meaningful.
Let’s take these alternative definitions one at a time. First, is the concept of “correct proportions.” I believe that originally, the concept of work-life balance was introduced to highlight the possible dangers of working TOO MUCH – for some that might even mean 100% of the time. But, I doubt it was ever meant to be interpreted that achievement of balance means a perfect 50%/50% split. In fact, the “correct proportion” can differ from person to person and from day to day. In this scenario, balance can just be an intentionality to prioritize the proportion of family/leisure time that is correct for you.
Next, there is the concept of VALUE. Compared with my work time, my family and leisure time is of an EXPONENTIALLY greater value to me. So, compared to my 8 hours of work time, my 3 hours of family/leisure time packs a high-value punch to my work time. In this scenario, balance can mean being intentional about making the most out of your family and leisure time, regardless of how much you have.
Finally is the concept of balance meaning being in a “steady position so that it does not fall.” Let’s take the Tower of Pisa as an example. It is definitely not UPRIGHT – so because of its tilt, you could see it as NOT perfectly balanced. But, it IS it is in a steady position so that it does not fall. This is because of the SUPPORTIVE work done on the low side to sustain the tilt. In this scenario, by ensuring there is a least one high-value activity in our day, we can offset the tilt of our work life so that we don’t fall over.
So, to recap, how can we achieve balance? I think the concept of balance is actually quite simple. First, figure out what are the correct proportions of work and family/leisure time for YOU. Then, identify what are the highest value ways to spend that family/leisure time. Finally, just like with the Tower of Pisa, do the supportive work of building your days around your highest value activities. For example, if you value physical activity like I do, it can be as simple as getting yourself a stand-up desk so that you are actually multi-tasking during your work day. (Yes, I know I need to Kondo my home office!)
Just try to add good things to your day when you can. And on the days you can’t, give yourself some grace. But, let’s not give up on the concept of balance entirely.