Work life balance is a lie. There, I said it. For many, many years, the concept of balance has given us the illusion that we can have it all if we just keep juggling. As anyone who has ever dealt with anxiety, stress or burnout knows, this is utter bullshit. Balance is not some magical process that compartmentalises work, life and every other area of our lives. Finding balance is not as simple as giving it your all at work, then coming home to give it your all there. Just like most things in life, it is far more complicated than that.
Have we been fooling ourselves thinking that work life balance was an actual thing? Yes. Does that mean we can’t still find balance in life? No. Understanding the myth of work life balance means understanding the meaning of balance itself. Let’s unpack that thought a bit more.
Is Work Life Balance Really Possible?
Work life balance is a myth that has we have all been fed our entire adult lives. It’s a buzz word. You will hear it everywhere you go, from work hard memes to inspirational desktops and mugs telling us to get more done. There is nothing wrong with working hard… assuming you are not working yourself into the ground. Productivity is a GOOD thing. It is healthy to do your best at work and meet your goals. It gets less healthy when you start pushing yourself too hard. When you are also juggling other roles and trying to be active, social and happy, things get a bit more complicated.
This is where the big myth comes into play. Balance implies putting equal effort into all areas of life. It implies that we have to be our very best at work, at home and everywhere else. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it’s not humanly possible to be the best in every part of life. This is not healthy at all. It’s a recipe for stress. Instead of trying to juggle life to be perfectly balanced, we should be finding ways to live fulfilling lives that make us content in all areas of our day-to-day lives. This could mean:
Ditching your expectations.
Like most women who are juggling too many roles, you likely expect a lot from yourself. You may think that you should be performing at your peak at work, whatever is happening at home. You might assume that the ‘having it all’ mindset is a good goalpost. Expectations are self-limiting and serve no purposes besides putting pressure on yourself. You can set goals for yourself. You can have a plan that pictures yourself where you want to be in five years. But you need to ditch the expectations you have that you need to be perfect at everything you do, at all times.
Setting clear boundaries.
I know that I suck at boundaries and I’m sure that you do, too. Over the years my people-pleasing urges have slowly gotten under control. I still tend to say yes to too many things. I hate to admit it, but I also sometimes get behind work because I over-schedule. Somehow, it is harder for me to be upfront about deadlines right from the start than to be clear about how much I can fit into a day. Saying yes to everything is how I ended up with major burnout a few years back. Eventually, I am learning to be honest with myself and set boundaries for work, social obligations and everything else that comes along. Sure, I may still find myself trying to do too much. But mostly, I have learnt to know how much I can fit into my schedule. More importantly, I have learnt that it is ok to say no. I can even say no to new projects that will add more stress to my life. That is one of the ups of self-employment. Obviously, it’s not that easy when you’re working full-time. You can still be clear about how much you can humanly do in a single workday. You can also be clear about social obligations and other roles in your life.
Making time for yourself.
This is easily one of the biggest catch-phrases you will hear when the work life balance topic comes up at any time. It is easy to tell someone to just make time for themselves. Take a spa day. Treat yourself to a girls’ night out. Take a duvet day. Do things that make you happy. These all sound good and in a perfect world, we would all be doing these things. We’re not living in a perfect world, sadly. That does not mean that we should not be making time for ourselves, however. What we need to do is re-define what that means. If you’re here on the blog, you probably know how seriously I take self care and that I see it as an integrated way to manage stress. The impractical, pointless self care inspo I see on Pinterest and Instagram always makes me cross, because it totally misses the point. Taking an hour to soak in the tub or spoiling yourself with chocolates and wine are great. These things are temporary escapes from life rather than strategies that will help you find balance. Making time for yourself could be anything from putting your own needs above everything else. It could look like finding something that is totally outside of your regular schedule. It could mean trying something new and enjoying it, even if you truly suck at it or think others may not understand at all. It could mean finally going to see a therapist about the feeling of overwhelm that keeps growing. Only you can decide what you need outside of the daily hustle.
Essentially, you could see life balance as a journey. Keeping the different parts of our life in sync is hard. Rather than killing ourselves trying to keep things in sync, it’s time to re-think balance. Once we step away from everything a little bit, it becomes easier to find a version of work life balance that is realistic, achievable and right for your specific life.