the myth of work-life balance

The Myth of Work-Life Balance

I often hear women talking about wanting balance in their lives, about wanting to FEEL balanced. Coming of age in the early 90s means that I am well-versed in the idea of work-life balance and the many ways to attempt to achieve it: time management, organization, leaving work at work, being present in whatever task you’re doing, making health and fitness a priority, meal planning, not comparing yourself to others, not sweating the small stuff.

I have scheduled myself into the ground, meal planned months in advance (not kidding), edited out the stuff that doesn’t matter, attempted to organize my house and life to the extreme, worked out regularly, made mindset shifts and let the unimportant stuff go, said “no” to obligations that I had no interest in.

I still felt like balance was just out of reach.

If balance were easy to measure and achieve, there wouldn’t be magazine articles, books, or websites about it, and I wouldn’t have multiple conversations every week with the women I know about seeking balance.

So here’s what I think: balance is a myth. Just like the Loch Ness monster and unicorns.

Listen, if the concept of balance works for you and you’re thinking, “Joanne, you’re a slacker. You can achieve balance if you put your mind to it,” then I want you to navigate away from this post and continue on your merry way.

But if you’ve felt frustrated about the fact that balance has eluded you, then I want you to know that you’re not alone, my friend.

Wikipedia defines work-life balance as “a concept including proper prioritizing between ‘work’ (career and ambition) and ‘lifestyle’ (health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development/meditation). This is related to the idea of lifestyle choice.”

In this particular definition, it’s the “proper prioritizing” that I have an issue with, because who decides what proper prioritizing is? How do you know that you have your priorities properly sorted? And what if you’d like to arrange your priorities differently, but society, your spouse, your mom, or your financial reality affects your priority ranking?

Setting aside the Wikipedia definition of work-life balance, the main problem I have with the idea of balance is that it implies that I’m a failure for not achieving it. As a girl, I grew up with the idea that I could – and should – “have it all,” and for a while I bought into the idea that creating balance was the way to become a superwoman.

The fact is, though, that I have many roles, and they are often in conflict. To do and have it all, all at one time, isn’t a possibility for me because, like you, I want so much for my life, and I am not willing to give up on my dreams simply because they don’t seem realistic at this point in time.

I am constantly evaluating my priorities and goals, checking in on my physical and mental wellness, and diverting my resources to where they are most needed on any given day. And perhaps this is what the concept of balance is about, a tightrope walk down the line between work and personal life.

Walking a tightrope isn’t pleasant, though, is it?

I don’t want my whole life to be a struggle, so I’m giving the idea of balance the boot.

I prefer the idea of equilibrium, which, I realize, is defined by achieving balance. Yes, I may be parsing words, but equilibrium to me means something completely different than balance. Maybe it’s chemistry class talking, but the idea of equilibrium suggests a system that adapts to changing conditions over time, rather than the perfect management of the load you’re carrying while you stand on one leg and try not to fall over.

Equilibrium is like a flowing dance: beautiful, dynamic, ever-changing.

Far preferable to a tightrope walk.

If you’ve been beating yourself up for not being able to achieve balance, you have permission to stop. Cut yourself some slack. Recognize that everyone else is struggling with the idea of balance, too. No one has  it nailed down. We are all muddling through, doing our best, and seeking grace however we can.

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