The Myth of Work Life Balance and Why it is Impossible

Work life balance has been talked about to death, but for overworked, overcommitted people it is still a very real issue. I searched the term “work life balance” on Google and generated 44,700,000 results.  Bing generated 78,800,000.

You could ask ten people for their definition of work life balance and probably get ten different answers:

  • It means I’m never tired
  • There is always adequate time to do everything that is important to me
  • There is no stress
  • Both work and personal life receive equal attention at all times
  • I love my job and I love my life
  • I feel competent at whatever I do
  • I always get plenty of rest and relaxation
  • I’m always happy
  • I am equally respected in my career and in my personal life
  • I am paid what I’m worth and have a perfect balance of income, saving and spending

I believe that the concept of balance between work and life becomes mythical in the idea that somehow you can achieve a perfect balance of time between the two.  Wikipedia’s definition of work life balance states, “…what work-life balance does not mean is an equal balance in units of time between work and life.”  There is often an idea, too, that if we set the right goals for ourselves to achieve the perfect balance of all of the points I listed above we’ll be rested and relaxed, all the time, we’ll always be happy, respected and financially secure. All of these will be possible if we just get into the right career, live in the right place, have the right relationships, etc.

Instead of a perfect balance between what we have to do and what we want to do (all circumstantial) I think all anyone really looks for is the feeling of control over our own lives. It’s that feeling we’re looking for, not the actual equal distribution of time and circumstances.

I know people who juggle extreme demands on their time and still maintain a relaxed attitude, while someone else who doesn’t have significant demands on their time is always stressed-out.  What is the difference? Why can some juggle multiple things and stay sane while others get frazzled if one unexpected thing gets added to their day?

Here are a few things I have observed about people who are “balanced:”

  • They are highly self-regulating. They recognize when too much is too much and make adjustments. This goes back to my whole focus on personal values. Someone who is extremely clear about their personal core values will also be clear about their own standards, boundaries and needs.  They routinely and automatically make adjustments on their own, (without relying on someone else) to support their needs.
  • They are able to look at their overall intentions rather than getting bogged down by the day-to-day. For instance, I had one client who made the clearly stated intention of “I am a healthy and energetic person.” She honored that intention by making healthy food choices and working out regularly. But on days when she wanted to work out but didn’t have time, she still knew that overall, she would get in sufficient workouts to maintain her health and energy and not get overcome by guilt about one day’s missed exercise.
  • They are truthful with themselves and with others. If they get in over their head on something, they don’t panic or stress, they get help. They don’t waste time trying to be superman or superwoman, but instead either find a way to get the job done or admit their limitations and let it go without regrets.
  • They have fun. The feeling of balance or control is aided greatly if you have a sense of humor and can have a little fun each day. Think of someone you know who you think leads a very balanced life.  Chances are, they often have a smile on their face.

What do you think constitutes work life balance?  I’d love to hear your thoughts! Post a comment and share.

2 Comments on “The Myth of Work Life Balance and Why it is Impossible”

  1. Great post and observations! By the way, I prefer the term “work/life integration” that some are using instead of “work/life balance.” To me, the integration is a more realistic state, as well as more sustainable over the long term.

  2. Very insightful Gwen. Even though it has become such a “tired” discussion I think you zeroed in on what really need to happen for each person to attain their own definition of “balance” – which can be, as you so nicely stated, a feeling of their own control. A version of personal freedom.

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