I'm a working mother and I'm passionately opposed to the concept of work/life balance.
Why would we compartmentalize our lives and expect to achieve balance? It makes no sense! For our own sanity, we've got to change how we approach the "end-goal" of this concept. And by "end-goal" I mean what the concept is trying to achieve, but never does because it is all W R O N G...
That end goal is happiness.
We all want to be happy. And everyone has a different happy. We want to thrive as parents, significant others, professionals, etc. Whatever we're doing in life, we want to do it well. And if we don't want to do it well, we should re-evaluate what we're doing.
Take a look at the definition of balance: [noun] a state of equilibrium or equipoise; equal distribution of weight, amount, etc.
The whole idea of work/life balance is that you have a scale with "work" on one side and "life" on the other side. Both must have the same weight to achieve balance.
Not tring to be Debbie Downer here, but that is NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN. And I'm also not going to be all kumbaya and say that "life always outweighs work," because that's simply not always the case....
Let's be real. If you're a working parent, you will have tough times. There will be periods where work runs your life and leaves you trying to squeeze every drip of energy out at the end of the day for those you love. Sometimes work runs your life because you have no option and have to provide for your family. Other times it runs your life because you're building your career and have to put in the work to get where you're going. It's not easy and you're often left with a crushing sense of guilt.
I've experienced one of these difficult periods. I was extremely unhappy with what I did everyday, but was not in a position to make any sort of change (even though I really really really wanted to). And my job took over many hours outside of the typical 8-to-5. I remember forcing myself into this happy person each day and going home completely drained. I felt awful for giving everyone all of "me" during the day and leaving nothing for the people I loved the most.
That experience was my first indication that the work/life balance concept was wrong. There was no way I would be able to put life on one side of the scale and work on the other and get balance. Nope. Work was running my life and I was drowning in the monotony. There is no way I was the wife, mom, daughter, friend, etc. that I wanted and needed to be.
Now that it's over and I can reflect from a safe distance, I can honestly say that I am thankful for that difficult period of my life. I know how crazy that sounds, but it's true. When in the midst of those challenges, there is absolutely no way I would have ever thought I'd be thankful for it all. But that season of my life taught me a lifetime of lessons for both life and work:
- I understood how IMPERATIVE it is to set boundaries.
- I learned how to say no.
- I realized I had (have) to stop the glorification of "busy."
- I understood how important it is to make your well-being a top priority (if not the #1 priority). And that's not just physical, but also mental and spiritual well-being.
- And most importantly, I learned that a person should have a firm grasp on what they value and what they are passionate about. Knowing these things will give you the perspective to prioritize and plan. Knowing those things will also give purpose to what you're doing everyday when things get tough.
That experience made me take a hard look at my values and passions, and how that job aligned (or didn't). I knew all along I was unhappy, but until I defined what I wanted, I didn't know HOW or WHAT to change. I'm no expert on this topic, but I did discover that if what you're doing isn't aligning with your values and passions, you should be searching for what does.
All that being said...looking back (from a much happier place), I wonder if "balance" ultimately looks at years instead of days. Is a balanced life one with both challenging times and periods of prosperity? Are we being too narrow with our view?
And honestly, do we really want balance? I think I'd rather have harmony between my personal life and work life....
For me, achieving harmony is where work supports life and life supports work.
Ultimately, at the end of the day, it's all life anyway.