What do you do when you start to feel stressed about how stressed you are?
When you hear your GOOP-loving friends talking about how balanced and zen they are, it’s easy to feel like you’re not where you need to be. Everyday you may think, “I’m just trying to get through the work day without pulling my hair out.” Leaving by 5 p.m. would be a win.
Work-life balance isn’t real, at least in the way we think of it.
So where did the idea of work-life balance come from, and why are so many people getting it wrong?
The issue with the term “work-life balance” comes from the word itself.
Work-life balance was coined when work and life were actually two different things. It was a time before iPhones made it possible for that line to blur, before it became common to get a text from your boss outside of the office or for you to read that email before you go to bed. A time like that doesn’t exist anymore, but for some reason we all talk about it like it’s something we should want. You may be friends with your coworkers, so why do you assume that you should be keeping these parts of your life separate?
As a career coach, it’s not only my job but my passion to talk about this, so I asked a room full of workshop attendees what work-life balance meant for them. I received a range of answers from not having to do work after 5 p.m. to being able to make dinner plans without canceling. Based on how much that boundary had been encroached upon, it meant something different to everyone. There were a lot of emotions connected to this term too. A majority of the women in the room felt guilty about how much or how little balance they had. They felt like they weren’t being the best friend, sister or employee they could be.
The issue with these assumptions was that they didn’t take into account how the office dynamics have changed over time.
So how do we fix it if the term as we believe it is a myth?
Start by figuring out what works for you. Reframe the idea of work-life balance to be more of a delicate dance and a deliberate trade off. Don’t draw your line between work and life in black and white. Look for the shades of grey. Are you OK with working later at night as long as you’re able to run errands in the evening? Do early morning hours with remote teams work if you can get your lunchtime workout in?
When I was struggling to figure out how to make my hours work for me, I considered a third option and I encourage you to do the same. I considered that I could stay at the company I was at and work hours that were a better fit for my needs. I considered what I was willing to give up and what I wasn’t. I suggested to my manager that because I worked with a team that started at 6 a.m. and I do my best work in the morning, if it would be possible for me to start and end my days earlier as well. I was terrified to ask this of him, but he wholeheartedly agreed and all because I asked and gave him the opportunity to answer.
I considered something that was a win-win for both ends and made it happen. While I would sometimes get online later at night if an email came through, I knew I could always make my 5 p.m. workout class and that kept me going.
Try the process of making more conscious decisions about how and where you want to work. It worked for me, and is just one of the building blocks which got me to where I am today, helping professionals with the very same thing.
Think about work-life balance as something different all together. What are you willing to give up, and what are your non-negotiables? From there, the possibilities are endless.