For as long as I can remember, work-life balance has been presented as the top banana in the pursuit of happiness. There is work, and there is life, and then there’s you and the monkey, in the middle.
We like equality. We like to envision a precise 50/50 point of equilibrium where balance is achieved – but what does that mean, exactly? It might look something like this: you finish all of your tasks at work and still have time left to play with the kids, read a book, make a batch of yoghurt, watch the sun set and post a picture of it on Instagram.
If work-life balance is the top banana, we need to recognize that it may not be a banana at all, but rather a carrot in drag – dangling right there in front of us, forever out of our grasp. If we could only get to bed earlier, we think, our days would be more balanced. If we could just plan a little more breathing room into our schedule, we’d feel so much better.
The reality, of course, is that there is no clear-cut line that divides work from the rest of your life. There is no such thing as a balance point between work and life, because work is in fact part of life – not in opposition with it.
So where does that leave you and the monkey? Scratching each other’s heads, perhaps.
Or trying to balance a plate on a stick, as a friend of mine recently did.
Instead of striving for work-life balance, consider integrating work alongside everything else you’re balancing in your life, but in a way that allows for flexibility. This means not even trying to divide your days into equal parts of work and family and self-care, but letting it fluctuate according to seasons of life.
What can that look like in practical terms? Here’s what I’m thinking.
1. SHIFT YOUR PERSPECTIVE
Think of your life as a spectrum, where ideas, people and activities can overlap. Here’s an opportunity to ditch your concept of balance as an absolute, and to view your life instead as the ancient people did – belonging to something bigger, namely the natural world. (If you’re interested in learning more about this, check out The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World by Wade Davis. An amazing book).
2. ESTABLISH CLEAR PRIORITIES
Right here, right now, what’s most important to you? This goes hand in hand with stepping back and viewing life with a bigger lens. Case in point: If you have a newborn in the house, don’t try to make marmelade. Seasons will shift, and so will your focus. It’s okay. Repeat: it’s okay.
3. DON’T TRY TO DO IT ALL
“You can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once,” I overheard someone say recently to a younger woman. I’m not sure I agree with the entitlement that underlies that statement, but I do agree that trying to do everything at once is a surefire way to welcome failure.
The take-away: One plate at a time, and you’ll be just fine.