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by • October 16, 2012 • Life As I Know ItComments (3)2479

A Libra Without Her Scales: The Myth of Work-Life Balance (Part 1)

Can we stop with the whole work/life balance thing? 1) There's no such thing & 2) Since when is 'work' outside the realm of 'life'? /rant
@lmendersby
Lisa Endersby

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.

.@ I've over the work/life balance "game". Its not about give/take, its about making sure you are fulfilled in each. #sachat
@pmilleredu
Paul Jacobson-Miller

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.

@ @ we often look at concept in a 2 dimensional manner, when it really is 3D with much overspray and integration
@clconzen
Christopher Conzen

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.

@ True that. Never a balance. Always a negotiation, an evolving relationship that needs to be navigated, managed, & nurtured.
@mdpistilli
Matthew D. Pistilli

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’?

@ I think there is! My work and my personal life are seperate. If you take my work away, I'd still be happy with my personal life
@ChristyOrgeta
Christy Orgeta

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?

@ the conversation needs a shift from "balancing" the two, to making sure they're not one and the same. those are different ideas.
@ammamarfo
Amma Marfo

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?

@ @ maybe we are talking a difference between work and vocation - if I may chime in 🙂
@timstjohn
Tim St. John

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!

@ Yes, please. Balance = Find work that you enjoy giving your time to and an outside life that's worth leaving work for.
@OberBecca
Becca Obergefell

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3 Responses to A Libra Without Her Scales: The Myth of Work-Life Balance (Part 1)

  1. Love the post! It’s an interesting discussion and I like that you introduced the idea of focus into it. I tend to multitask a lot, but in my multitasking I do focus. I hone in on one thing very intently, and then switching over to something else when I need to take a mental break or let an idea simmer.

    I fear that “work-Life balance” will be a topic in Student Affairs for a long while. I agree that we need to get away from it and stop looking at time as a scarce resource that we need to budget. Instead we need to decide if we are fulfilled by how we use our time and if we are not then we need to reevaluate what we are doing, rather than taking 2 hours away from here and putting it over there.

    As always, I end up thinking about more and walk away energized! Thanks for writing!

  2. I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggles with structuring work/life as a “balance”. A radically different question than what you’re posing here might be whether or not the struggle for some with the balance itself comes from a discovery that your career (for us student affairs) is not working out quite like you expected it to. So the issue of balance is not about the time, but about how much you want the work to be separate from everything else because its not as fulfilling as you thought it might be.

  3. Timothy James says:

    I think that you are taking too literally the definition of “balance” from Webster’s, as none of the definitions actually reflect what you are talking about. 1) Refers to equilibrium on a scale, 2) refers to equilibrium of a body with respect to the forces placed on it (in a strictly physical sense) which is effectively the same as 1), I think. and 3) refers to ensuring that your assets are the same as your liabilities. None of them refer to any sort of construct that we create with respect to our lives. Balance, then, is misused (at least if we take Webster at face value) when we talk about life balance, simply because we cannot empirically measure the weight of life, work, and the such. So how do we know what is important? (i.e. how much ‘weight’ is involved). I think it’s obviously up to the person. But I think that when people talk about life balance it’s more like saying, “stop and smell the roses every now and then. Take account of priorities and make sure that what you are doing is ultimately right and proper for you, at the time”.

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