The Fallacy of Work-Life Balance
This whole concept of work-life balance really caught on some years ago. Executives, educators, health care professionals, moms – we all chanted the same refrain, “We want work-life balance.” Work-life balance is this glorious yet elusive idea that we can achieve equilibrium within our daily lives, honoring our professional commitments while fulfilling our personal obligations, all while preserving our sanity. Perhaps it’s a flexible work schedule, bring-your-child-to-work day, or taking work home, but the truth is none of it works. Here are a few of the challenges.
1.What work-life balance looks like depends on who’s seeking it.
An individual’s gender, family obligations, and job greatly impact the desired solution. In general women manage the children and many of the household tasks (laundry, cooking, cleaning) whether stay-at-home or employed. However, the work-life balance needs of a divorced or widowed high-powered male executive with children who travels for work may look surprisingly similar because of his circumstances. Someone without children has different needs and may find working 60 hours a week represents balance if they also dedicate an hour each day for exercise. Work-life balance is highly subjective.
2. Balance changes over time depending on what’s going in your life.
Undoubtedly, new jobs require more time at work just as new babies require more time at home. Rebalancing is necessary and ongoing.
3. Mathematically, the equation is all wrong.
If the sum-total of our entire day is 100% and we divide each task/role we play into equal fractional components, the only way to get to 100% is to give minimal amounts of time and effort to each task. For me, my equation currently looks something like this:
20% mom + 20% entrepreneur + 20% wife + 20% full-time physician + 20% faith = 100%
With this calculation, nothing gets my full attention. Sometimes, the equation is more complicated, depending on the season of my life and what all I have going on at the time. Someone please tell me how is this effective?
4. Imbalance is the norm.
For these reasons and more, I believe the work-life balance just doesn’t exist. Imbalance is the norm. On any given day, I am giving unequal amounts of my energy and focus to the various roles I play. I was on vacation while writing this post, so much of my time was spent languishing in the sun with my family for the last few days. When I return to work, I will be in beast-mode; we all know how difficult it is to play catch up on the job after vacation. There is no balance. There is only imbalance and shifting priorities, combined with the inevitable tipping of the scales when one area of our life requires more attention than another.
My New Philosophy: Work-Life Integration
I have been rethinking this whole idea. Work-life balance just doesn’t work, not for me. I am constantly pulled in multiple directions simultaneously – no compartmentalization here. My new goal is work-life integration. It’s a term that is gaining a lot of traction, and it makes sense. We wear many hats, especially as moms; and there is no way to consistently and seamlessly separate the roles we play.
I am a full-time physician, but I also am a wife, mother of 3 young children, blog, speak, and am growing my coaching and consulting business. Thus, I respond to texts from my children and answer the phone when the school or my husband calls during the workday. I blog at home while my children read and complete their homework. I answer work emails while waiting for my daughter to finish up dance class and while watching my son’s baseball game. My work-life and family-life are intimately intertwined. My husband does the same. Sometimes we volunteer in the concession stand during his track meets. He makes recruiting calls at home.
Work-Life Integration Practices
It’s our reality and a reality for many families. Our lives are incredibly busy almost all the time. While I fully support “stopping and smelling the roses,” this season of my life requires something different:
First, I acknowledge my perfectly imbalanced life.
Second, I accept the numerous roles I play on any given day.
Third, I admit that I cannot give 100% to every task and realize that no one else can either. I mean consider celebrities who hire personal trainers, chefs, chauffeurs, nannies, and private tutors to manage their professional and personal obligations. They have a whole team! Say “NO” to unrealistic expectations or better yet – hire a team lol.
And, fourth, I intentionally include my family whenever I can but also find pockets of time just for me and the pursuits I cherish, just for my hubby, for the family, and just for my children. A life well-lived is about celebrating the ordinary, finding peace in the middle of the chaos, maintaining an attitude of gratitude, and creating opportunities for meaningful connection.
4 thoughts on “I’m Done with Work-Life Balance”
Hey Dr.Leesha! I am a certified professional coach, specializing in Working Moms. So many of things you said ring true, and are some of things I share with my busy Moms. I believe in Work-Life Acceptance. The sooner we accept that it is impossible to expect to give 50% at home and 50% at work EVERY DAY, be cause we live in the world with other people, the happier we will be. Awesome blog.
Thank you so much, Robbie. This such an important conversation fur busy moms and one we must tackle to preserve or health and well-being. I am thankful for the work you do as a certified professional coach!
Love this. My company has been talking about work life balance for years but they don’t really support it. I was endlessly fighting for a work from home day. We finally got one day a week while other companies allow 2-3 days. I already do answer emails when at baseball games or vacation so I guess I am doing work life integration.
I wish companies and corporations would implement real policies and practices for families rather than touting the philosophy without action. Happy employees are loyal and productive employees; everybody wins.