by David B. Bohl
We are constantly being bombarded with the notion that work-life balance is crucial to leading a happy life. Self-help authors share with us their precise points of view as to what our lives should look like. We’re warned that there’s a perfectly balanced state that we can achieve if only we work more intensely, are superior at managing our time, are more efficient at every task we undertake, have each of our “spaces” organized, and/or are more adept at saying “NO” and standing for it.
Unfortunately, these well-meaning writers leave us with feelings of frustration and inadequacy, for we‘ve now indirectly been given a new standard by which to measure our own lives. Their suggestions of how to “take control” of our lives seldom bear any resemblance to what our lives currently look like. Upon examination and reflection, we find that, when compared to the model of stability presented to us, we see that we simply don’t make the grade.
It’s now been made abundantly clear to us that our lives are unbalanced and totally out of control. In addition, we now feel incompetent, guilty, and hopeless because we’ve added one more idyllic aspiration that we can never attain and that we’ll beat ourselves up about over and over again, adding more traumas to our already stressed-out existence.
What’s wrong here is not that we want to live balanced lives, it’s that we’ve swallowed hook, line, and sinker someone else’s concept of what balance is. We’ve let somebody who knows nothing about us tell us how we should define our lives.
How do we know when our lives are out of balance? Many of us are out of balance when we are constantly tired, we feel like their choices are limited, we feel like life is “happening” to us, we react to situations and interactions instead of act, life seems more negative than positive, and we feel like we’re “burned-out” (generally characterized by a lack of enthusiasm, feelings of dissatisfaction, emotional exhaustion, an inability to concentrate, a sense that we’re working hard but accomplishing little, and observations that we’re not having much fun).
Is it wrong to want to achieve a balanced life? Of course not! We simply need to make certain that we understand and define what balance means to us and what our hopes, dreams, and aspirations are. We cannot allow someone else to tell us what life balance should mean to us, nor can we fall into the trap of trying to mirror someone else’s version of the perfectly balanced life. What we can do is create our own definitions of balanced lives and live them!
How do we begin to define our balanced lives? We start by understanding and appreciating what balance is not.
First, we must understand that it isn’t a magic formula, nor is balance an automatic 50/50 equilibrium between work and private life. One can’t define balance as spending 8 hours each and every day at work and 8 hours each and every day on personal things.
Second, the life we’re endeavoring to create is not a perfect target that one hits and levels off at. It isn’t a static outcome. It changes over time, depending on external and internal factors, particularly at different stages in one’s life. It isn’t a destination, it’s a journey.
Third, our envisioned new lifestyle won’t be a constant. Life happens. It sometimes swings like a pendulum. If our goal is unwavering balance and happiness, we’ll be disappointed.
Finally, your balanced life isn’t and ideal, especially not someone else’s. It’s uniquely personal – each and every one of us has the chance to define it and to live it.
Once we’ve realized and accepted what a balanced life is not, we’re ready to embark upon the journey of inventing the meaning of what balance stands for to us and creating our lifestyles in support of these objectives.