Like many of you, I have long sought work/ life balance. It’s a mythical creature, much like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. Real only in the imaginations of those who fervently believe.
In reality, it’s exactly what it sounds like – a balance so delicate that one false move will shatter everything.
The problem with work/ life balance is that it assumes we are able to do perfectly proportional parts of everything: work, family and relationships, self care, growth and learning, and community. But each of these categories barely encapsulates everything stuffed inside it. “Family”? do you mean helping your kids with their homework, caring for an elderly parent, nurturing a marriage, or calling your mom?
No – you mean all of them.
Just like self care means getting eight hours of sleep, drinking eight glasses of water, eating healthy, learning to meditate, and having two’ minutes to yourself once in a while. And if even one of these subsets doesn’t happen, you chastise yourself as a failure.
The problem with work/ life balance is that if anything needs more than its fair share of time and energy – and what doesn’t these days? – everything else will by default suffer. It’s a terrible system. And it’s wrong by design: we don’t want to give each category 20%; we want to give 100% to everything.
I feel like the whole concept must be a vestigial limb from an earlier era. Back in the days when men worked in fields or factories, when women cared for the children and tended the home, when “community” was synonymous with church, and when there was little time or space for anything else. Work got its dedicated hours, family and sleep got theirs, and church was given a whole day each week.
These days are different. Everyone’s expected to… everything. Everyone works, everyone cares, everyone must stay informed and climb their respective ladder, all while saving the whales and solving the climate crisis.
I’m not glamorizing the days of yesteryear.
They weren’t pretty, and I have no interest in going back. But they were simple in the sense of not being complex. There just weren’t as many plates to juggle because the ones that were in the air were urgent. Nobody counted how many glasses of water they drank because they were too busy carrying the buckets.
Lately I’ve been thinking about work/ life balance in my own life and how it’s changed over the years. Pandemic aside, the balance I have now is very different that what I had five years ago, or ten, or twenty. And it’s likely different than what my future self will have.
Back when my daughter was young and I was a newly divorced mom, my role as a parent and breadwinner was all consuming. Sleep took a backseat for several years. As my daughter got older, career and later running a business became the crucial focus. As she set out on her own and my business gained momentum, I finally had enough space in my brain to think about what I wanted in life – my work/ life balance became very personal. Alan and I met and later married, changing the balance to include our relationship. Now I’m looking toward the future as our lives slowly shift again.
It’s easy to forget that everything that’s happening right now is just that: right now. And it’s a lot, I know. It’s hard and heavy and some days there’s nothing left to give. I feel it, and I hear it in others. Those caring for elderly parents or kids. Those dealing with job losses or economic insecurity. Those adjusting to their support structures shifting beneath their feet. And, those simply craving normal.
It’s just plain hard.
But it won’t be long before the balance shifts again. It may not go back to where it was, and that’s okay. Ideally, it will become what we need. But in the meantime, we may have to loosen our grip. Slide back to Maslow’s lower levels – food, shelter, and caring for ourselves and each other. When we’re feeling particularly energized, maybe squeeze something else onto the list.
But until then, be a little more simple, a little more self-ish. Find balance by making the whole equation smaller.