Work-Life Balance is a Myth.

justice_scalesI’ve been thinking about work-life balance a lot, and I’ve come to a conclusion:

It. Does. Not. Exist.

Because the idea of “balance” implies an equivalency between the two: work on one side, life on the other. For the work and the life to come to a balance, there has to be an equivalency in weight. The implication is that you work (meetings, tasks, commute, strategy, etc.) should take up as much time and space as your life (significant other, kid(s), pet(s), faith, friends, volunteering, relaxation, exercise/health/self-care, eating, family, citizenship, etc.)

I am sure that when people talk about work-life balance, they don’t necessarily mean it this literally. But to talk about work and life as a dichotomy is to potentially train your brain to think that way. Once you see work and life in that way, you will never feel like you are giving enough to either. The more time you spend on “life,” the more you may feel you are shortchanging the “work” side. The more time you spend on “work,” the less time you have to allocate to all of the facets of the “life” side.

I’ve experienced myself this constant pendulum effect, and I’ve watched it affect my husband, as well. Particularly since we are both so driven, if we are not running around doing housework or activities, it is difficult to put down the iPhone or the laptop and just be, either with each other or our son or our friends and family. If we are not doing a “life” task, we should then be working on a “work” task. But then we lament the presence of constant stress and pressure. I imagine that others who are self-employed or have significant responsibilities in their professional life find themselves in the same place.

So I propose that we get rid of the idea of work-life “balance,” that we throw out that scale entirely. Instead, we need a vocabulary that acknowledges that work is just one part of the whole that is our life. Work is important and sustains us economically and in other ways, too, but it should not be presented as somehow equivalent to the other precious pieces of our life.

As a student of yoga, and as a Libra, I am very attracted to the notion of “balance.” I do fear that too much concentration on that term can bring into the mind an idea of precariousness — like a spinning top that is balanced as long as it is in motion, but falls to one side once stillness arrives. But if we think of “balance” as something more fluid, where sometimes more attention is given to some things than to others but we are addressing the important items on the whole, then I think it is a term we can still use. But let’s strike “work” from the equation and just go to “life balance.” Not an equivalence among all of the pieces of our life; it would be totally unrealistic to say “I spent 1 hour playing with my child, so now I must spend 1 hour cleaning my house and 1 hour in prayer and 1 hour with my friends…” But an acknowledgment that our lives are comprised of many factors, and they all require and deserve attention.

So instead of a scale, with work on one side and life on the other, envision a pie chart. The pie is your life, and you can divide it into triangles of whatever proportions work for you on this day, this week, this month, this year. Work is one part of that pie, but it does not need to come out as equivalent to any one part, and certainly does not need to come out as equivalent to the whole.

There is no such thing as work-life balance. It’s just life-balance.


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