On the surface, the idea of work-life balance seems like an attractive thing. Who doesn’t want to be balanced, right?
But here’s the thing, have you ever tried to balance on one foot? Some of you are great at this, for me it’s not a pretty thing. It is a balancing “act” at best. I’m not comfortable with it and it requires constant attention and course corrections. The movements are more jerky than fluid. I feel myself falling to one side and haphazardly pull myself in the other direction in an attempt to stay balanced.
While my balancing act may not be a thing of beauty to behold, I think it points out some elements that are often overlooked in the quest for a balanced life.
“Balance” Isn’t Always Pretty
Some people are really good at setting rules about when they’re working and when they’re not. They know that at 5 pm they are out of the office door, no work is coming home with them and they are now on “me” time. It’s great…for them.
Having worked with some people who are strong enforcers of their rules, it’s not great for everyone around them. When they leave those numbers uncrunched before leaving for the weekend, promise to get back to that report tomorrow or refuse to take any calls after hours, they shift the burden onto those around them.
And I’ve always wondered, when they are so eager to get out of the door at work, what does that say about their happiness at work? My guess is that they probably don’t love what they do. Is that a sad kind of balance where you’re happy for half the day, when you’re on “me” time and miserable the other half, when you’re at the job you can’t wait to leave?
If that’s what they’ve achieved, I doubt it’s what others are seeking when they express a desire for work/life balance.
Balance Is Hard Work
Let’s say you’re not aiming for the sad balance of a 50/50 split between happy time and miserable time, you are seeking something else. You want to be fulfilled at home and at work and you want to be comfortable in how you divide your time.
Remember me trying to balance on one leg and having to make slight jerky adjustments all the time, what was the challenge? I was trying not to fall too much to one side or the other. Should that really be the goal?
Here’s my recommendation, put that other leg down. Now you’re on solid ground, feeling fully supported instead of trying to maintain the balancing act. Grounding comes from understanding your values, what’s important to you right now, and using them to set your priorities.
Keep this in mind, values and priorities change so shifts will happen, but they will be intentional and more fluid, not the jerky, off-the-cuff reactions needed to maintain balance.
In my life, I’ve had times where I was very career focused. I had a plan for where I wanted my life to go, based on my values, and work became more of a priority. Other times, work takes more of a back-seat as family matters draw me in a new direction and it feels right to give this area more of my attention at this time in my life. There have even been times when my work and life kind of flowed together, I was doing things I love with people I adore. I may have been working more than would have been attractive to other people, but it didn’t feel like work, it felt fulfilling.
Find your grounded place based on your values and priorities and let them guide where you invest your most precious asset, your time.
Forget Balance… Try Harmony Instead
My inability to effectively balance my work life and my home life is what led me to start my own business in 1998. I was never one of those people who dreamed of being an entrepreneur. In fact, for years people kept telling me I should start my own business, and I always said no.
Until stress and burnout led me to it as a last resort. After years of struggling with balance, and the stress and chronic health issues that came along with it, I realized starting my own business might be a good solution. It would give me more control over my time and allow me to be home with my kids.
The funny thing was, not long after I started my business, I realized I was still burning the candle at both ends.
Turns out the real slave driver was me.
I was worse than any boss I’d ever had. Thankfully I realized what I was doing pretty quickly and stopped. At the time I remember framing and hanging a saying on my office wall. It read: “Why are you rushing through life. Are you in a hurry to get to the end?”
That served as a daily reminder that I didn’t have to do everything now. I didn’t have to accomplish all my goals today.
Life, and business, is more like a marathon than a sprint.
I know because I’ve run marathons. They require pacing. If you go out too hard at the start, you’ll never finish. Or, you’ll hit the infamous wall. I did that in my first marathon, and while I finished, it wasn’t pretty.
I learned I needed to apply this same thinking to my business, and my life. I’ve also learned that balance really is an impossible goal because nothing is ever in perfect equilibrium. Therefore, I prefer to seek harmony instead.
Harmony means that everything is working together.
There are times in my business when I’m really busy. And times when all hell breaks loose in my personal life. Thankfully, the two seem to do a good job of taking turns.
I’ve also learned to enjoy the down times. Used to be when my business experienced a lull, I’d get nervous. I’d begin worrying when, or if, business would pick up. Fear of failure started creeping in. But, I’ve learned to enjoy these slower times. I believe it’s the universe’s way of giving me a reprieve, a respite, a time to rejuvenate.
While I’m not perfect at embracing all of this, I do my best.
When I start getting too busy or stressed out, I make sure I’m taking time for myself. I give my mind a break and my body a boost with regular exercise. And I enjoy my regular form of meditation: running. I no longer run marathons, but 27 years after my last 26.2-mile race, running continues to be great therapy for my mind. And most of all, I strive to enjoy the harmony of the symphony, that is my life.