By: Trinh Abrell
I’ve always thought of work-life balance in the context of a work week. But our lives are measured in so many different ways, by months and seasons, by milestones such as birthdays and anniversaries, or by the stages in our lives, before and after marriage, with and without children living at home, or caring for elderly parents.
For decades much has been discussed, debated, and written about work-life balance. These three words can invoke guilt, wistfulness, or sense of failure. This concept is as elusive to some as big foot or the mythical 24 inch waist. But what is work-life balance? Is it the 5 hour work week? Home by 6:00 pm to have dinner with the family? Checking emails whilst on the family vacation? Work-life balance is personal and subjective.
I recently posted this question to some members of Ellevate, a global professional women networking organization. And the answers ran the gamut. For some, it means keeping work and life separate. For many, being present, whether at work or in life, is the theme. One answer seemed to resonate. A reader commented that she prefers work life harmony. Yes!
The word “balance” raises visions of a circus performer teetering on a high rope, while clutching a very long and heavy pole. Finding balance is hard. It is a struggle every minute. If you let up, you will fall to one side. The consequences, can be catastrophic, even life threatening if it affects your health. Work can consume you, seep into your everyday life, into your conversations, into your dreams even (how many of you have had dreams about showing up for work in your slippers?) If you focus too much on family or if personal issues interfere with work demands, missed deadlines and poor performance, it can jeopardize your livelihood.
So what’s the answer?
Each person should be able to define their own version of balance. What gives you energy and makes you happy? If work gives you satisfaction, sense of worth, and focus, feel good about that. Don’t apologize for enjoying your work! But make sure you feed your other needs as well. Physically, your body requires rest, sleep and other stimulants. Your brain, like your muscles, need to be stretched in different ways.
Secondly, balancing occurs over a stretch of time. Many people view work-life balance in short timeframes. If you had a hard week, balance that out by getting back to your workout routine the next week, or add a massage in. You can watch TV with the kids instead of answering non-essential emails. (I, for one, think that watching TV with your family qualifies as quality time. It is a shared experience.) Work may also come in seasons. A colleague’s husband was a college football coach. During the football season, he was never home except on Sundays. And during recruiting season, he was traveling. But for a month or so in the summer, he didn’t have a care in the world and they would spend those months at a lake house in the Finger Lakes.
Finally, don’t turn a situation into a habit. I was working with a team in a different time zone and we were meeting at 10 p.m. my time every night during one stretch of the project. After the issue was resolved, we repurposed the meeting to discuss other things which were not as time sensitive. We eventually decrease the frequency of these late night meetings to once every two weeks.
Let’s harmonize our jobs and our personal lives in a way that brings joy and meaning into both our work and our personal time. However, be careful to not limit ourselves to achieve something in a timeframe that does not mirror how we measure our lives.
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