In December 2011, cbsnews.com published an article by Dave Logan, Ph.D., author of Tribal Leadership, suggesting that “work-life balance “ is a crock, an idea whose time has come and gone. Although I too have felt that this is an unrealistic ideal, I’m not so sure that I could clearly articulate what I do believe about this idea. I decided to take a look at some other current commentators writing about work and life balance. Here’s a sample of what I found:
David Greuse at Convergence Design, noted that “…we reject the notion of work-life balance, although we take the idea very seriously. To us, the phrase ‘work-life balance’ suggests that ‘work’ and ‘personal life’ are two separate categories that must be kept in separate containers lest a toxic mixture result. We believe the opposite: that work and personal and community commitments should be merged into a seamless whole that might be called ‘life’. Work is not antithetical to life: it is an integral part of life.”1
John Beeson in a recent Harvard Business Review blog noted that for senior level execs there is no such thing as work-life balance. He says your work consumes all your waking (and most of your sleeping) hours. The best you can hope for is a power nap. Guess that leaves me out…
Edy Greenblatt says we should be asking a different question. Instead of wondering whether you have balance or not, we should look at all the facets of our lives and ask how we are performing. Are we fully engaged? Are we physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused, and connected to something significant in life? If the answer to any of these is no, one of our “muscles” likely needs to be developed. The key is to identify what restores us and depletes us. In both work and non-work activities, we must do more of what we find restorative.
Sherrie Bourg-Carter, author of a book on what she calls “High-Octane Women” says the bottom line is that balance needs to be self-defined; it’s what works for you and your family. If you allow it to be anything else, you’re only adding another thing to your “to-do” list. And frankly, isn’t that list full enough?
Personally, the comment that resonated most with me was a few lines sent to me by a friend. I don’t think she wrote this but wise woman that she is, perhaps she did. The comment was “Start with what’s scarce: time. You only get so much, and you can’t hit ‘undo’. Some things are abundant. Time is not one of them. The goal is to get so focused on what’s vital, that you get in the regular habit of saying ‘I don’t have time for that’ to anything that doesn’t serve what really matters. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking there’s ‘work’ and ‘life’. There’s only life.”
Here are just a few references if you want to read more on this topic:
Bourg-Carter, S. (2011). High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout (Prometheus Books, 2011).
Greenblatt, E. (2009). Restore Yourself: The Antidote for Professional Exhaustion. Los Angeles, CA. Execu-Care Press.
1 The Myth of Work-Life Balance: http://www.convergencedesignllc.com/blog/index.php/the-myth-of-work-life-balance/
A version of this blog was previously published at www.wcleadership.com.