It’s Time To Kill The Fantasy That Is Work-Life Balance

In an interview with CNN’s Christine Romans, Martha Stewart said work-life balance didn’t work for her. “It’s one of the most difficult things to do; that balance, which is so elusive to most of us. It didn’t work for me. I thought, ‘Oh, I can do it; I can do all of that.’ I had to sacrifice a marriage because of the lure of the great job… It’s impossible for most of us to get that balance.” If Martha Stewart can’t do it all, can anyone? I went to social media to see what folks out in the real world had to say about work-life balance. Their answers were refreshing, and some really great themes emerged from their responses.

Balance isn’t the right word. Some suggested alternative ideas: work-life integration, work-life harmony, and work-life blend. Rather than trying to balance all things all the time, it’s something much more fluid. Some weeks you feel like you’re present in all areas of your life, and other weeks you feel pulled strongly in one direction. Eventually, things level out before it begins again. The idea of balance is an unattainable standard that results in an almost constant feeling of failure.

If you’re passionate about your job, practice self care. Many folks that are passionate about their job said self care was integral for them, though they usually needed to force it on themselves. Fellow millennial Shaun said on Facebook, “I’m terrible at [self-care] but I force myself to do it. Even if I have to physically put it in my calendar (which I often do).” It can be hard to step back and focus on yourself at the end of the day, but the benefits of self care are worth it: Self care prevents overload burnout, reduces the negative effects of stress and helps you refocus.

If you’re not passionate about your job, find a hobby to get passionate about. For those that aren’t passionate about their job, finding something to do outside of work that brings them meaning is huge. Alaina, another millennial in a mutual Facebook group said, “I find it very helpful to schedule activities outside of work I enjoy shortly after I’m technically supposed to be out of work… I can’t skip these activities because someone on the other side’s counting on me to be there. It’s on my calendar, and my colleagues know I have to leave on time those days. I think it’s also really important we support our colleagues in doing the same.”

It looks different for everyone and it takes time to get “right.” While most of us are striving to feel like we’re doing well in most areas of our lives on a given day, our personal vision for this will look different than everyone else’s. We all have different careers, commitments, families, bodies, priorities and goals and it will take time to figure out. To get started, here are three things to consider.

  1. Time management. No matter what you’re trying to do with your life — whether it’s start a small business, take an art class, learn a new skill, or spend more meaningful time with your family — time management is the foundation of seeing your intentions come to life. Without setting aside time to address the things you feel are lacking in your life, it will be hard to make progress.
  2. Set expectations and communicate. Shauna Niequist talks about this on her episode of SuperSoul with Oprah. “When I asked for what I needed… the most important people in my life loved helping me… There were some friendships and some professional relationships that did not make it through this transition. When one person changes, everyone else has the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, would I like to change the way she’s changing?’ As best we can, we want to surround ourselves with people who celebrate the journey that we’re on.” Be vocal about your intentions at home and at work, and set new expectations if you’ve been doing too much (like working from home after hours.)
  3. Give yourself space to fail. Fellow Facebook group member Stephanie said, “I see it as a constant ebb and flow instead of something we work towards and then suddenly achieve and then everything is perfect.” There will be times things feel out of control and that’s okay. It will pass, and you’ll have infinite more opportunities to try again.

The theory of work-life balance is enticing, but it doesn’t leave room for life to happen. Life is full of unexpected twists and turns (both good and bad) and the idea that one person can balance everything at once is unrealistic. By holding ourselves to a greater standard of setting an intention, making it known, and giving ourselves grace when things don’t go as we planned, we set ourselves up for a more meaningful life, balanced or otherwise.

Bonus book recommendations (because book recommendations are always welcome in my, erm, book): Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufu and Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist.

This piece was originally posted on Forbes.

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