Why I'm calling BS on work-life balance
I'm calling it.
That’s right. I'm calling BS on work-life balance.
Yes, you read that right. I’m taking a firm position against work-life balance. Or better said, against the type of “balance” that’s talked about so much in magazines and on television.
Think about it…
How many tv shows have you watched where they talk about how it’s possible for women to “have it all” and then they run a commercial shaming us for not being the perfect mom or the perfect girlfriend in order to sell a product?
When flipping through your favorite magazine, how many articles have you come across detailing how difficult it is for women to combine our careers, running a household, taking care of children or parents, having a social life, living healthy and working out, and having a little spare time for ourselves?
When browsing through the nonfiction section of Barnes & Nobles, how many books have you come across that have something to say about “finding your balance”?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve lost count. And I’m getting so, so tired of it.
Here’s why I think work-life balance is BS
/ 1 / IMBALANCE IS NATURAL, BALANCE ISN’T
We live in a world that changes all the time and is in constant motion. Focusing on balance in an ever-changing world is pointless, especially because imbalance is our natural state of being.
Think about the the rise and fall of ocean levels. The moment it reaches low tide, the ocean is already busy preparing for high tide.
Seasons when nature is in decline are followed by seasons when nature blossoms.
Our economy is a constant cycle between times of growth and times of decline or even recession.
If so many processes in our world are cyclical, then why do we put so much effort into pulling away from our nature?
/ 2 / BALANCE AS A MEASURING STICK
Another reason I’m so tired of hearing about work-life balance is that balance is presented as yet another measuring stick for us women to measure up to.
In our culture, finding balance is presented as searching for something outside of ourselves. It has become this holy grail. If only we seek really hard / spend a lot of time working on it / do more than our very best / are nothing less than perfect, then maybe… just maybe... we can find balance. At least, that’s what they want us to think.
As if women don’t have enough societal and cultural pressure to live up to already.
Plus, from our experience we KNOW that if we get there, if we reach that elusive ideal, we aren’t really ‘there’. Because there’s always another level, another goal, another idea of perfect.
It’s a never-ending rat race where we run around in circles but never reach the finish line.
And we’re not having it.
We’re tired of being whacked on the head with fictional measuring sticks and never quite measuring up.
We’re tired of reaching for an ideal that’s always out of our reach.
We’re tired of never being good enough.
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Reframing what balance is
Here’s what I know to be true.
We, soulful creative women, want to live our best lives. We crave meaning and value. We want to contribute and to matter. What we do needs to matter. We want a life that’s perfect in its imperfections.
To live our best lives, we need to be intentional about how we spend our time and energy.
It’s also important to keep checking in to see how we’re doing, where we are on our path, and what is and isn’t working for us.
That’s why we need to reframe the concept of “balance” and re-think what it means and how we can apply it in our lives.
These are a few thoughts to help you on your way.
/ 1 / BALANCE AND PERFECTION ARE BEST BUDS
This one is caaaa-rucial (and I mean CRUCIAL) for all of us struggling with perfectionism.
Balance and perfection are best buds. They’re like a couple of popular high school bullies who we need to watch out for, because they like to get us in trouble.
They pretend that they’re our friends, which makes us feel all excited. But once they’ve roped us in, they’ll always walk a few steps ahead of us. They never let us catch up. Always leaving us feeling left out and behind.
So, ditch them. Who needs ‘em, anyway?
The pursuit of a perfectly balanced life leaves us feeling like we’re failing because it’s the pursuit of the impossible.
So, change course. Pursue something different, something real. Embrace mess and imperfection and vulnerability.
Ditch that misleading ideal of achieving perfect balance.
And let go of that need for perfection.
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/ 2 / BALANCE NEEDS TO BE ABOUT PRIORITIZATION AND BOUNDARIES
Whether you like to keep using the word “balance” in the future or not (maybe you like a different word), here’s what I think balance really should be about.
Not the perfect balancing of every little aspect on the big scale of our lives, but a deep focus on prioritization and enforcing boundaries.
We need to stop frantically trying to keep all of the plates spinning in the air and instead focus on being intentional regarding our values, choosing where we put our energy, honoring our boundaries, and being content with what is.
Balance isn’t something we find outside of ourselves, it’s something already within us.
Balance is setting boundaries. Balance is saying no and sticking up for ourselves. Balance is listening to our intuition and our bodies and letting it be enough when one or both says it’s enough.
Balance isn’t about striving for something outside of ourselves, but about being content with and grateful for all the good things that are already present in our lives.
Balance means accepting that we’ll feel off balance a lot of the time.
Balance also means letting go. Letting go of expectations about ourselves, our lives, our relationships. And more importantly, letting go of expectations about what we think we should achieve and the person we think we should be.
When we aren’t working non-stop to meet these expectations, we’re busy worrying about why we aren’t living up to them and why we haven’t yet realized our ambitions.
Doesn’t it make more sense to ask ourselves a few tough questions?
Why do I do this to myself?
Why do I have such high expectations?
Why do I put so much effort into pleasing others instead of myself?
Why do I let others walk all over me instead of putting myself first?
Why do I lead such a busy life?
Next, let’s ask ourselves questions that can help us.
Which expectations do I want to let go of?
What is really important to me?
What are my values?
How can I create a life that’s less busy and stressful?
Which activities, duties, and obligations (both my own and my loved ones) can I cancel or dial back?
What gives me joy and do I want to continue doing?
I think many of us, when we take an honest look at our calendars, have a lot of appointments and activities that we don’t feel like doing, that we feel resistance towards + that cost us energy instead of give us energy.
It takes courage to prioritize and enforce boundaries. It can be risky to say no and no longer please #allthepeople. Perhaps certain people will like you less.
But the trade-off is worth it, because balance materializes when we stop doing and hustling and start letting go.
We don’t find balance, we are balance.
/ 3 / BALANCE ISN’T BINARY
Another thing to realize is that work-life balance isn’t black and white. Doing important work can make us feel gloriously alive and the mundane errands of our day-to-day lives can very much feel like work.
Work and life aren't the only two things that matter in our lives. What about relationships, friendships, raising children, hobbies, volunteering, health, personal development, faith, spirituality and so much more?
Balance itself isn’t binary either. It isn’t a choice between balance and imbalance.
Like I said earlier, balance is something that’s already within us. We carry it with us all the time, no matter how we feel and no matter how many hours we spend doing what we do. We don’t always listen to or honor our inner balance, but we can never deny its existence.
The question is: “How balanced do we want to be?”
There are many shades of balance and it will look and feel differently for everyone. For some balance will feel like rest or peace, for others it will feel like satisfaction or fulfillment or growth.
Besides, isn’t there enough ‘fake binary’ in the world already?
Right or wrong
Guilty or innocent
Victim or survivor
Left-wing or right-wing politics
Pepsi or Coca-Cola ;)
People! These are gross oversimplifications. Where’s the nuance in all of this? Or the context?
Our life experiences aren’t simple. They’re rich, nuanced, sometimes confusing, and full of meaning and purpose even if we don’t always know what the meaning or purpose is exactly.
I challenge you to find the nuance in your version of balance.
/ 4 / IMBALANCE MEANS MOVEMENT, BALANCE LEADS TO STAGNATION
Think about it.
We have to have imbalance to be able to move forward. I mean literally. When we’re walking we have to kick our foot forward and take a next step or else we fall flat on our face.
If we don’t pay attention, balance can lead to standing still and stagnation.
If we don’t pay attention, a balanced life can lead to a life where everything is equal. And everything being equal feels like nothing is moving.
When we buy into the cliche of work-life balance, we see balance as a set of scales where the idea is to get things of the same weight on both sides so that one is not higher than the other.
But that’s not how life works. Life is dynamic. Life flows.
Life isn’t static. We’re not meant to give the same weight to everything in our lives every day. Every day is not meant to be the same.
We have to realize that balance is a flexible thing that changes with our needs. Balance will look differently depending on where we are at in our lives and what’s most important in that season.
Getting everything in our lives to be equal isn’t what we wanted anyway. We want to live. We want to feel. We want our hearts to expand and our minds to be elevated. And we want to do work that matters and do our part to leave the world better than we found it.
But we don’t want the same amount of each of these things each day. Because there’s no movement there.
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/ 5 / A BETTER WAY TO MEASURE BALANCE
I believe most of us get balance ‘wrong’ because we measure it solely using time.
I’ve always loved this quote: “If we do what we've always done, we will get what we've always gotten”.
So, if we want different results, we need start using a different method.
Let’s measure differently. Let’s change the metric.
Our experience of balance will change drastically when we stop measuring the amount of balance in our lives based on the metric of ‘time’ and start using the metrics of ‘energy’ and ‘value’ instead.
These questions might help:
What gives me energy?
What costs me energy?
How can I arrange my day-to-day in a way that leaves me most energized?
What are my values?
What do I value?
How can I arrange my day-to-day in a way that adds the most value, for myself and others?
How can I arrange my day-to-day in a way that prioritizes my values?
Answering these questions may lead to us arranging our days in a way that isn’t necessarily productive. We may end up spending a lot of time focusing on one thing. But that doesn’t matter, because time isn’t the most important metric.
Consider this, we also might just have upleveled our feeling of balance by prioritizing energy and value.
Are you stuck in perfectionism and need little help letting go of the perfectionist tendencies that are holding you back? Then make sure to download your FREE copy of my perfectionism-busting workbook.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT WORK-LIFE BALANCE? DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR ADDING MORE GENUINE(!) BALANCE TO YOUR LIFE? LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS.
Hey, Wendy here!
As a perfectionism coach, I help online creatives #ditchperfect, overcome their perfectionism + take action on the big ideas they have for their business. Let’s work together and make those ideas happen.