Wikipedia shares the following definition for work-life balance: “a concept including proper prioritizing between “work” (careerand ambition) and “lifestyle” (health, pleasure, leisure, familyand spiritual development/meditation)”. If we lived in a generic world, this definition would cover most of us. However, we live in a world that has innumerable nuances, and “balance” means different things to different people. Like most buzz words, work-life balance has taken on a life of its own; and an employer and employee can both use the phrase correctly with two totally different meanings.
For me, work-life balance is a myth that every person who works for someone else believes in. Let me be clear: Balance is not a myth. Qualifying balance in one and as one way, however, is. For example, I love people. I love talking to people, hearing their stories and celebrating success. As an Ombuds, there is sometimes a great distance between hearing a story and getting to the celebration of success. This may entail meeting with one person several times at different times of the day and week. An outsider looking at my schedule might remark that I don’t have sufficient “down” time factored in during the work week since many of my days start at 0400hrs and don’t end until 2000hrs. What that same outsider is missing, is that during those 16 hours, I get to talk to no less than five different people. I get permission to breathe into the lives of some people that I might never have had the good fortune to meet – and do because of this job. I get the pleasure of someone looking to me for assistance in unraveling a knot in their lives. That sounds like a pretty good day to me! Balance is not just about hours put in and hours put out. It is about being fulfilled by our activities and connections in that time.
So I used all of the previous words to say one simple sentence. Only YOU can define what is a good work-life balance for YOUR life! In elementary school, I was presented a plaque for scholarship (yup, I had that work-life balance thing together even then!). This plaque was a copy of the famous Desiderata. I still have that plaque, and one line continues to ring true for me in 2015 (42 years after reading it for the first time): “And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy”. Sounds so simple, but you and I know that there is a legion of folks out there who act like it is their life mission to keep us from doing just that!
So that you may find some useful fodder in this blog, I can share with you my ideas on how not to achieve work-life balance.
- Try to schedule an equal number of hours for each of your various work and personal activities. You will soon go crazy or find yourself unemployed. The balance comes in how you feel not the amount of hours you apportion to each task. Life is unpredictable. We are unable to plan for every eventuality. You will live longer and have more fun if you remain flexible.
- Believe that your work-life balance will be the same at 25 as it is when you are 45. Read note #1 again! Life is unpredictable, but there are some absolutes: you will get older, your preferences will change, and what brings you joy at 25 may be (should be) radically different than what brings you joy at 45. The right balance for you today will probably be different for you tomorrow. The correct balance for you when you are single will be different when you marry, or if you have children; when you start a new career versus when you are nearing retirement.
- There is no perfect “one-size fits all” balance you should be striving for. The best work-life balance is different for each of us because we all have different priorities and different lives. And how we define balance is different. Don’t compare your life to that of your friends, co-workers or TV reality show stars.
- Concentrate on the really big changes you have to make right now. You can bring more balance to your life right now by simply lifting up a pencil. Identify the areas you want to change and identify how you will track your progress. Put the pencil down. You have already bought greater balance into your life by simply identify the areas where you want to work. Your next steps are dependent upon how quickly you want to make that proposed balance a reality.
I hope you discover the strategies and tactics necessary to achieve the balance you desire. When you do, share, so that we can copy!