“Work/Life Balance” is a Detrimental Concept. Here's What to Aspire to, Instead.
Overwhelm. Disconnection. Frustration. Burnout.
These are all-too-common experiences business owners, leaders, and high-achievers face in our increasingly complex, rapidly-changing and uncertain world. The solution I often hear is two-fold: 1. Tolerance. Seniority, by its nature, means more responsibility. So it is inevitable that life will become more challenging and difficult, right? (Spoiler Alert 1: it doesn’t have to be) 2. Work/Life Balance. If you can just find that elusive work/life balance everyone keeps talking about, everything will be ok.
Digging a little deeper into what “work/life balance” actually means, senior professionals describe a much larger and richer aspiration beyond what the phrase implies. They describe wanting to live in a way where they are succeeding across all areas of their lives. Where they wake up feeling energised and excited to get out of bed. Where they are healthy, spending quality time with their families, having fun with friends, and creating time and space for themselves. All while continuing to be financially secure and professionally successful. In summary, it is where they are living their best life!
While the intention behind achieving “work/life balance” sounds great, the reality often limits one's potential. Thereby affecting their ability to find success across important areas of their lives and reducing their levels of satisfaction and fulfilment within any successes.
The Limitations of "Work/Life Balance"
Imagine a balancing scale. The type of scale that Lady Justice holds in her right hand. hen one side goes up, the other side goes down.
This image is analogous to how “work/life balance” is viewed. It is an idea that assumes that your work and life are two ends of a scale. When one side thrives, the other side suffers. This promotes a sense of separation and conflict between your work and the rest of your life.
More specifically, the concept of "work/life balance" incorrectly infers that:
Work is not part of your life. It should be seen as separate and treated differently to the rest of your life.
Work is more important than any other part of your life and it must always be prioritised. "Work" is the first word in the phrase, so it should be considered first in decision-making. Otherwise, we would have other combinations like "family/life balance" or "health/life balance", right?
There are exactly two parts of the human experience - 1. Work 2. Life. Anything outside of work can just be lumped together into a general “Life” bucket.
Excelling in one area means losing out in the other. That’s what balance is about, right? You can’t have it all so you have to pick one and accept the other side will suffer. The idea of “having it all” is a fallacy.
Trying to achieve success on both sides just ends up putting you in a state of limbo. The real choice is in whether you accept to be mediocre at both work and life. Or you excel in one. You can't have both
From this perspective, the two sides - work and life - are at odds with each other. And while you can find some balance, it is a zero-sum game where at least one side loses. This then feeds into further stress that drains your energy and, ultimately, affects your performance.
It makes total sense to resonate with this perspective - it is a common view that is shared amongst colleagues and friends. However, just because it is a common view doesn't mean it is one you have to adopt. Especially if it isn't serving you. What if instead of viewing life from a place of separation, you approached it from a place of connection. Instead of conflict, you looked for harmony. And instead of exclusion, you recognised the power of inclusion. What might that experience be like?
Finding Balance in Tree Pose
Tree pose is one of my favourite yoga poses. It isn’t flashy and won’t get me millions of likes on the Gram, but it continuously teaches me what true balance is all about. As a new yogi, I saw tree pose as a simple feat of external balance. If I could just move my upper body more to the left to counterweight my right leg and flap my arms from side to side, then I could avoid falling. My ultimate goal was to avoid falling. And as you may know, if all you focus on is avoiding something, then the likelihood that you will do that thing increases exponentially (Spoiler Alert 2: I fell over a lot!). All I succeeded in doing was flapping my arms around, falling over, and getting frustrated. And that is exactly what happens when trying to achieve “work/life balance”. We try to avoid it all crashing down by counterweighting the two sides and then get frustrated (or burnt-out or overwhelmed) when we don't achieve what we truly want.
Fast forward six years and my tree pose looks and feels very different. Instead of coming from a place of avoidance and force, I now achieve the pose with purpose and integration. By connecting my whole self - mind, body, and spirit - tree pose is both more stable and effortless, enabling me to find balance with ease. Connecting to my whole self means starting with a steady breath. Imagining myself successfully entering the pose. Keeping my eyes steady on an object. Pressing the full area of my standing foot into the floor. Glueing the foot of my bent leg strongly into my thigh and vice-versa. Maintaining a strong core. Relaxing my shoulders. Opening my collarbone area. Reaching my arms up to create lightness. Ok. if you aren’t a yogi, that may sound weird, but trust me, it works. Similarly, connecting and integrating all aspects of your life is the secret to achieving true life balance and success.
Creating Life Balance for Success
"The whole is greater than the sum of its parts" - Aristotle
So, how how can you start to shift your perspective and live a more balanced and successful life?
Recognise that all parts of your life (including work) are as important as each other. You are more than what you do in the office. A rich and fulfilling life is made up of the fun & enjoyable activities you do, the time spent with your loved ones, your finances, your personal journey & development, your spiritual awareness, your health & wellbeing, your relationships, and, of course, your career & business.
Understand that doing great in one part of your life actually helps build up the others. Yogi example: I am now able to touch my toes not just because my hamstrings opened up, but because my hip flexors are so much stronger. Instead of believing that my strength and flexibility are at odds with each other, I now know that not only can I be both strong and flexible, my strength actually helps me become more flexible and my flexibility helps me become stronger. Life example: Think about a time when your health was at its peak and your personal relationships were thriving. How much more effective were you in the office? Now think about a time where life at work was difficult and stressful, how much harder was it to switch off and have fun in your downtime? It’s all connected!
Take actions aligned with your personal values. This will help connect you with what you truly want for your life, as well as motivate & inspire you to find your balance. If “building authentic relationships” is one of your top three values, find ways to integrate that more across all areas of your life - build work relationships, have an exercise buddy, find a financial advisor you connect with. If you value “creativity”, build Lego with your kids, go on an artsy holiday, learn to do improv comedy.
Prioritisation does not mean win-lose when you prioritise with the big picture in mind. Prioritise based on your values and purpose, knowing that there is space for everything you want to achieve across all areas of your life.
Strive for quality, not quantity, by being present in the moment. It is so easy to take up time being busy. Or to kid yourself that multi-tasking works (Spoiler Alert 3: it doesn’t!). Both are a major source of ineffective time management. Work smarter in the office to improve your performance and focus. When you’re with your family, connect with them (not your Inbox). When you’re on holiday, explore new sights. Whatever you’re doing, do it well to reap the benefits.
Life is not a zero-sum game. Instead, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts". This well-known Aristotle quote is commonly used to promote effective teamwork. But it also relates to what is possible when you bring the different parts of your life together, in harmony, to create more success, satisfaction, and balance. Imagine how much more potential you could realise!
Want to talk more about how you can excel across all areas of your life and create the balance that you seek? Let’s chat! Comment below, E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or book time in my calendar.