Balance is a Verb
The concept of work-life balance is not a new one. But, given that it’s getting increasing popular attention lately, it’s worth considering what it means. As someone who is interested in not only maintaining balance but also studying it — it’s what initially inspired me to pursue my PhD — I think about it a lot.
People often say, “My life is so unbalanced” when they really shouldn’t think that. And some people, even extremely intelligent people like Neil deGrasse Tyson, have suggested that work life balance is not something we should strive for. At the extreme, some suggest that work life balance is a myth.
Work life balance is something we should strive for and it’s not a myth. I don’t fundamentally disagree with the alternative viewpoints. But I define balance differently.
Balance is central to my yoga practice. My understanding and appreciation of how balance applies to yoga has evolved over the years and with that, my understanding and appreciation for work life balance has evolved with it.
The yoga poses that involve balancing on one leg are among my least favorite and most favorite. They’re my least favorite because I often struggle to maintain them. But I’m okay with that. It’s humbling. They are my most favorite because it feels so awesome when I do hold them for several breaths.
As I was learning these poses I realized something that helped me over the learning curve: Balance is a verb.
As a simple example, consider what happens when you stand on one foot. You can’t simply lift one foot in the air and say, “Yay! I’m balanced.” It’s not a state of being. If you want to be able to remain on one foot for longer than 5–10 seconds (depending on your experience, strength, body alignment, etc.) you need to make micro adjustments. You might wiggle your toes ever so slightly. You might shift your hips a tiny bit. You might slide your shoulders further down your back. And if someone were to try to push you over, you would have to make bigger adjustments in order to stay on one foot.
We do not magically obtain a state of balance.
We have to work at it in order to maintain it.
And you define what balance means to you.
Try this simple thought exercise.
- List the major domains in your life that are important to you. They might include: work, family, personal, social, civic, etc.
- Draw your Ideal Pie of Life. Each slice of the pie represents one of the domains and the size of the slice represents how much time you ideally want to spend on it.
- Now draw your Actual Pie of Life. The slices again represent the domains but this time, the sizes represent how much time you actually spend.
- Compare that ideal to the actual. You’ll probably realize that you’ll have to make some adjustments — some minor and some major — in order to achieve the ideal.
And adjustments aren’t a one time thing. They have to happen every day and they often happen moment to moment.
With this exercise, you should also realize that using work life balance as an adjective (“My life is so unbalanced!”) or as a noun (“I can’t keep my work and life in balance”) is pointless. Use it instead, as a verb.
I strive for balance every day.
Negative self-labeling is also detrimental to your well-being. When my 6-year-old acts up, I don’t say, “You’re a bad kid.” I say, “That was a bad decision.” I don’t label him. I identify the behaviors that need fixing.
Balance: It’s not who we are. It’s what we do.
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