Do you think work-life balance is ever possible?
Separating personhood from my work is one of my struggles, common with many of us who find joy in our work. Optimistic view: yes, you can juggle competing priorities in career and personal life and reap rewards in both. The pessimistic view: no, you’ll never find balance because someone or something always demands attention as soon as you feel in control. Jack Welch (the former chief executive at GE) told a Society for HR Management conference audience that in his view, “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, you make them, and they have consequences. Taking time off for family can offer a nice life but the chances of going to the top on that path are smaller.” Mr. Welch’s blunt comments drew mixed reactions from conference participants, as you might expect.
Perhaps the best answer is maybe. Maybe work-life balance is a lot like friendship or a romantic relationship. It’s never really 50-50. In relationships, sometimes you shoulder more responsibility while at other times (hopefully) the other person supports you. There are seasons in life when personal matters take precedence. At other points, we sacrifice personal time to focus on work. Instead of expecting equal focus on both parts of the self, cut yourself a break. Like ocean tides, our energy for career or personal pursuits will ebb and flow throughout our lives.
We can aim for presence: be fully involved in personal pursuits when we’re not at work.
We can aim for engagement: be fully focused on our tasks when we’re at work.
And we achieve contentment if we allow a third relationship to enter the picture and remain prominent: our relationship with ourselves. This means enjoying the luxury of even small spurts of time spent solely to recharge our batteries, with no external demands. In my coaching and teaching experience, it’s an especially challenging idea for women. Guilt and worry abound. A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study recently found that men on average spend twice the time on exercise than women do, unfortunate because it’s such a smart time investment in stress relief.
It’s possible for all of us to prioritize key parts of work, relationships with others, and self.
When you practice self-care, you return to your career and those around you with more energy.
In our “Staying Sane in Stress and Change” seminars, participants imagine they’re juggling four balls in the air: work, loved ones, play and service. We ask how many can honestly say they have all four in real-life motion. Only a few people even in large auditoriums raise their hands. When I ask which balls they’ve dropped, it’s most often time with loved ones or time to play. The majority feel they work enough. Play refreshes your spirit and can include time alone or with loved ones. As Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese poet (my poet mother’s favorite) put it: “God said love your enemy, so I obeyed him and loved myself.” Good luck, and thanks for your wonderful question.