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Work-life balance. Business gurus and wellness experts have been talking about it for years. It has always struck me as some kind of mythical ideal. As if there is a perfect balance that can be struck between the two.
I’ve never known anyone to find that balance, and believe the entire concept to be invalid. It’s another case of linguistics complicating something that is otherwise quite simple.
The Myth of Work-Life Balance
Instead of aiming for some measurable balance in our lives, we must accept that work is a necessity. For all but a few of us, we must work in order to accrue the financial means to support the life we have and, in the future, the life we desire. Without work, we cannot make ends meet.
Work and life are not separate. They are a part of the same whole. Work is a part of life. The two are not in opposition. Therefore, we cannot hope to balance work and life. What we can do is find a way to manage how much time we spend on work and non-work.
Once we establish the fallacy of work-life balance, we free ourselves from the desire to attain that which, by definition, is unobtainable. Instead, we can seek to accept that at times we have to work, and at other times we will be able to dedicate ourselves to other activities.
The Pursuit of Balance Results in Guilt
The problem the work-life balance crusaders have been trying to address is the insidious infiltration of work into the rest of our lives. Pretty much everyone knows the frustration of always being online given that our smartphones are never far from our hands. Work is never too far from our minds.
For entrepreneurs, there is little escape from the demands of building a dream business. There is an amount of hustle that is thought to be a prerequisite for eventual success. It’s just that no one really knows how much work that is. So, entrepreneurs everywhere dedicate inordinate amounts of time to their fledgling ventures.
Whether you are a wage earner or an entrepreneur, at some point you have to draw a line in the sand. If not for your own sanity, then do it for that of those around you. No one wants to end up like Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
But forgo the idea of “balance.” There is no ideal amount of work versus non-work. It will be different from person to person. Some folks thrive on work, while others would rather be surfing. Your situation will fluctuate depending on what you deem to be important right now. Therefore, if you persist in the struggle to find balance, you run the risk of feeling guilty if and when you don’t achieve it.
Learn to Ride the Waves
Life pulls us this way and that. We all have our ups and downs. It’s not about removing the downs and aiming for more ups. You can’t have up without down, just as you can’t have black without white. Life is about accepting the ups and downs and riding it out like a leaf in the ocean.
Even when work seems like it is getting out of hand, know that at some point it will ease off. Work, like life, ebbs and flows. Sometimes work demands a lot of us, sometimes it does not. So, given the fluid nature of work, how can we be expected to achieve balance? Instead, we have to ride the waves.
In place of struggling for balance, take the time to set reasonable expectations for you and for those close to you. You must understand the requirements of your work, and the impact on your life. Those close to you, likewise, need to understand how your work obligations will affect their lives. Setting and managing expectations is essential to not going mad trying to fit everything in.
You can set these expectations by clearly communicating with those close to you what is going on work wise. If you will be stretched for time, let your family and friends know. If you can’t make commitments, explain why. Clear communication will relieve a lot of the tension.
Be reasonable in what you expect of yourself. If work is demanding at the moment, then perhaps you might miss out on a few things. Just know it won’t always be that way. Don’t pressure yourself looking for balance when you can’t attain it. Accept what you can’t change, and change what you can.
On the subject of change, you always have the ability to change your lot. If work isn’t working for you, then you can decide to do something else. Even if you are running your own show, sometimes you need to know when to fold. You are one of the lucky ones: you have choice.
Create Your Balance, Your Way
It is my belief that much of the struggle around trying to balance work and non-work comes from preconceived ideas of what is right and wrong, and the expectations of those around us. Who is to say what is right for you? Why should you feel guilty if you do things differently to that guy or that gal? It’s your life.
Instead of struggling to fit into a mold, forge your own path, create the lifestyle you want, and continue to ride the ups and downs with acceptance, grace, and a hint of optimism.