Monday, August 5, 2013

Work-life balance is a lie. Here's why.

I thought today, being a long weekend in Ontario, would be a great day to write about work-life balance, the proverbial holy grail of parenthood. We all aim for it, but seldom feel like we are achieving it. It's a constant struggle of time spliced into fractals that we hope will eventually lead to that enviable place where all ducks are in a row, balanced and beautiful. And now the honest truth: it's never going to happen. Here's why.

Consider the term itself: work-life balance. The term balance implies something that is in precarious danger of becoming off-balance. Here is how the word is defined.

Used as a noun, it means: An even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.

Used as a verb, it means: Keep or put (something) in a steady position so that it does not fall.

And therein lies the problem and the truth. Using the word balance is inherently flawed.

Now think about life honestly. I don't know about you, but steady is not something that I would use to describe mine. I am thinking about the relatively consistent things on any given day: the seven cheerleading practices per week my girls attend plus their school work, running my own business, being a wife, mother, friend, sister and entrepreneur, not to mention time to do yoga, writing, walking or whatever else it is that keeps me feeling centred and focused. Then there's all the peripheral necessities of life that my husband and I share: washing floors, doing dishes, groceries and the never-ending laundry mountain, walking the dog...the list goes on. There are so many moving parts that change from day to day, hour to hour and minute to minute that the notion of  keeping any or all pieces 'steady' is like building a quick bridge to insanity rather than salvation.

Setting boundaries and going with the flow

The effort we put in, however admirable, is doomed for failure just by believing that somehow, someday, with enough conviction, planning, organization, control, and just plain wishful thinking, that we'll eventually achieve balance in our lives. Let's be honest: the thought of maintaining that precarious balance is exhausting, let alone trying to execute it, day in, day out. Yeesh. 

So how can we live without feeling a loss of control?  By setting boundaries and learning to adapt and recognize the changing priorities in our lives. By doing this, we can allocate the necessary amount of time and effort without  committing to that being how it is always and forever from this day forward, amen. I read an amazing article that inspired me to this way of thinking and I invite you to read it as well. It really started me on the path to re-evaluating my perspective and what is really manageable. We can't control life but we can have a sense of control by going with the ebb and flow of life. To allow priorities to change and fluctuate as needed in order to deal with them becomes the goal. For example, a proposal for a potential client may be your utmost priority for the day while on another it might be volunteering at your child's school and work is taking then taking a backseat. This doesn't mean the balance is off, it simply means that there is harmony among all those moving pieces that allow you to accommodate what needs being done without feeling defeated, out of control and like you've lost the battle for balance. 

Another key part to this approach is setting boundaries. They aren't rigid lines that cannot be crossed. I look at setting boundaries as the overall 'plan' for how I would like the majority of my time to be spent, the "blueprint" for what is really important in my life. One such area is our family life and family time. I pledged to myself that even as a business owner and entrepreneur, I would not work during holidays and weekends. That may not be possible 100% of the time, but keeping this in my blueprint allows me to remain mindful of the place and time it should habitually take up in my life. That isn't to say, there aren't days where work will have to come first whether it's a Saturday or not, but it is not a habit and accommodating this priority once in a while doesn't mean the harmony is lost and I've failed. 

Summary: Life is hard enough as it is without beating yourself up for not being able to keep all the balls in the air at once; NO ONE can do that, not even the best Cirque de Soleil performer. It's important to create a blueprint to guide you but it's also important to be flexible enough to give yourself a break when things don't go exactly as planned or priorities change. Remember that harmony, not balance, is the goal.