I was talking to a good friend the other day – a really good friend- and she said to me “I don’t believe in work-life balance”. I didn’t say anything at the time. Fair call- I thought- she loves her work, and she loves her life. But days have gently passed by and I am stewing on her comment! Why? Because she’s not the first.
I hear many women say “I don’t believe in work-life balance”. Men too. It bugs me. It turns balance into some fairy tale possibility like the goose that lays the golden egg. It becomes some unattainable state that no logical or rational person should aspire too because its not possible. Or at best its so infrequent it doesn’t bear commenting on. Like a blue moon. A rare occurrence. And if it does occur it’s usually too cloudy to see it anyway.
When we say “I don’t believe in balance” -the assumption is then, its not possible so why bother. I have even known people get quite defensive around “balance”.
Is this why women are unhappier than ever before? No fewer than 6 studies have shown that women are less happy than we were 40 years ago. Is it because we don’t even let ourselves believe in balance any more?
Perhaps a more useful conversation would be “what is balance”? And do I want that?
Let’s start there huh?
The first couple of definitions of balance according to the grand Google dictionary :
- an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.
- a situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.
Now I can see where the affront comes.
If you’re spending 45 hours working each week, and you think to have balance you need to spend 45 hours a week with your kids and 45 hours a week asleep and 45 hours a week exercising and 45 hours a week with your partner and… (you get the point)… well, I can see the problem.
The word “equal” seems to be the problem here.
But if we look at the broader context of “even distribution to keep something upright and steady”… I see nothing to take offence at.
Indeed what a brilliant definition.
In my life I strive daily for staying upright and steady!
A noble ambition.
What kept me upright and steady yesterday, was different to what is keeping me upright and steady today.
Yesterday it was alone time, lots of dark chocolate and avoiding the computer.
Today it’s my awesome team and the opportunity to share my odd thoughts with people who think I’m vaguely interesting!
It reminds me of Einstein’s superbly Tweetable quote:
“Life is like a bicycle. To keep your balance you have to keep moving.”
You have to push fully down on the right pedal, and the fully down on the left. And you have to keep at a certain speed or you wobble.
Perhaps balance is just fierce commitment to first one thing, then the next, then the next…. in an effort to stay upright! Surely that’s something to “believe in”.
Now the right pedal… fully present commitment to hide and seek with my son
Now the left pedal… fully present commitment to a yummy dinner
Now the right pedal… fully present commitment to this episode of Outlander
Now the left pedal… fully present commitment to bed
Now the right pedal… fully present commitment to inspiring the team
Now the left… fully present commitment to closing the sale
Now the right…
And then there’s definition number 2. A situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.
Well, we’ve already said that in life equal is impossible. But if we focus on the latter half of this: “in the correct proportions” then surely we can believe in that too?
If you’re living a life where you get to enjoy the elements of your life in the proportion that works for you, then… brilliant!!
Nature herself is the perfect example of this. Left to her own devices she finds equilibrium. A perfect balance of all the elements. Not in equal proportions. But in the right proportions for the situation. And these proportions are dynamic, not static.
We all have our own little ecosystems of which we are the centre. Is the ecosystem sustainable? Then perhaps there’s balance. If not… hmmm- perhaps you need to check out your “proportions”.
Can we stop the balance conversation being about whether we believe in it or not?
Can we start saying of course you can bloody well have a life that has the elements you want in the proportions you want. But you just can’t be present to it all at exactly the same time?
You can’t be pushing down on the right pedal and the left pedal at the same time. Or actually you get unbalanced.
It’s all about choices right? As this same friend said “if you choose to have sex with your husband all weekend, you might not get around to doing the dishes.” Sounds perfectly balanced to me.
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