After reading the headline of another work-life balance article on Twitter, I shared again my discomfort (read: outright frustration) with the term. Funny enough, I had almost forgotten about a similar blog post I had written on this very idea in May 2011.
As a Libra, I have at times identified with the symbol of the scales – weighing, judging, attempting to achieve perfect harmony before making a decision. Over time, however, my notion of balance has been blown out of the water. The scales, as it were, have been tipped strongly in favour of removing the word ‘balance’ and all it implies from my guiding life philosophy (don’t worry – ‘Carpe the hell out of this diem’ isn’t going anywhere).
Webster’s defines balance, in part, as
- a counterbalancing weight, force, or influence
- stability produced by even distribution of weight on each side of the vertical axis
- equality between the totals of the two sides of an account
What bothers me most about these and similar definitions is the near impossible ideal of equality. In each moment, there are a million and one things competing for our attention. We make decisions about where to focus our energy based on a number of factors, internally and externally, some beyond our control and some firmly within our grasp. We choose where our energy goes or, as it seems often, watch as our energy leaps ahead of us and attaches itself to a novel stimulus. Regardless, our finite energy resources are stretched and strained every day.
With a limited amount of physiological and cognitive/emotional resources to spare, the notion of placing equal mental emphasis on both sides of the proverbial scale at all times seems tenuous at best. Cognitively multitasking has been shown to actually decease productivity and lower IQ, making the case not for balance but for a succession of singular, focused attention to one distinct task at a time. In this case, balance gives way to tipping the scales in favour of the most important or most pressing item.
Stretching this idea to life itself, multitasking our way through life can often lead to feeling scattered, disoriented and aimless. Balance, by definition, demands equal attention, focus and energy on both (or all) sides of the proverbial scale. Despite our seemingly innate need for the stability this balance may achieve, the very structure of our daily lives, placing us in various, novel situations at different times does not allow for this balance to easily, if ever, be achieved. Worse, scattering pieces of ourselves (our energy, our attention, our joy) among these different areas leaves us without a sense of authentic wholeness, which cannot be then enjoyed by those closest to us and those who could most benefit from it.
Speaking of authentic wholeness, writing ‘work-life’ to me feels just as inauthentic as trying to find ‘balance’.
I wonder why work not a part of our larger definition of life. Is work truly a separate entity? Do we lead multiple ‘lives’?
What fascinates me most is the assumption in ‘work-life’ balance is that there is ‘work’ and then there is ‘life’. Are they one in the same or two separate concepts?
Perhaps this idea of ‘life’ needs defining further, but I see life as the whole that work is a part of. Work is also not only our time in the office, in meetings or at events. Work is not our job title nor is it our career. Work isn’t always (and frankly, shouldn’t primarily be) something we dread waking up for. Work is not something that should consume your passions and burns out your light – it should be a place and a space that allows you to share your joy and make the light in others shine brighter. Is that not, in perhaps, our life’s work?
I’ve titled this blog post ‘Part 1’ because I have much more to say about this topic and I know many of you do too. Please comment, tweet or email me to keep the conversation going. I think we’ve got a good thing going here – thanks for engaging, challenging and sharing friends!
Leaning Into The Discomfort Next Post:
A Libra Without Her Scales: The Myth of Work-Life Balance (Part 2)