Work–Life Balance is Not the Goal

Work–Life balance doesn’t exist, but maybe something else does.

Photo by Cindy Tang on Unsplash

It seems like in just about every bubble – entrepreneur, corporate, employee – there’s rampant discussion of how to achieve work–life balance.

Lengthy articles with step by step instructions on how to structure your day and make work vs life decisions abound. You need not put forth any effort into seeking out these tips and tricks, for there’s an entire industry churning out these life hacks and simple check lists.

Yet even if the recommended action items are sound, the wisdom is lost in the implementation. We’re still talking about the intersection and integration of work and the rest of our life as something that needs to be balanced – evenly distributed and proportionally weighted.

Why are we striving for mere equilibrium?

Language is powerful. Our word choices and syntax provide glimpses into our philosophies, belief systems, and strongly held opinions.

The use of ‘work-life balance’ in our vocabulary suggests we believe that there is an evenness or harmony that can be struck between two discordant concepts. And that, supposedly, if only one delegates or meditates enough, this equilibrium can be attained.

But why should work and life(style) be at odds with one another? In this age of lifestyle design, with corporate refugees, and the rise of the freelancer economy, how are we still struggling to integrate our work into our life?

We are not solely making choices that contribute to our work-life or not. The ‘life’ element of the work-life balance is so wholly undefined, that it is downright meaningless without context. And context is relative.

What piles up on the life scale for a single working parent is entirely different than that of a recent married college grad with no children.

And what about all us entrepreneurs who talk about our immense passion for our work? Is that passion somehow exclusive to our work-life, or does it bleed into our life-life? Do we categorize those tasks and events that bring us joy and refresh out minds, but also contribute to our business, as work or life?

It’s not a balancing act

There are nuggets of wisdom in those tips and tricks to balancing your life. Many of them overlap into larger overarching categories. Let’s look at them:

  • Set boundaries
  • Stick to your principles
  • Value yourself
  • Understand your goals and desires
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses

Dealing with stress, managing your time, and prioritizing the important stuff really comes down to a few core life strategies.

Colleagues always coming to you with questions just as you’re about to walk out the door? Set boundaries about when you leave the office and clearly communicate them.

Boss always asking you to take meetings during your vacations and days off? Value yourself by taking those days completely to yourself and clearly communicate that you’re unavailable.

Feel like you’re not being active enough and want to do something about it? Understand your goals and desires, so you can choose an exercise routine or class that will enhance your life.

Of course, this is all simple in theory, challenging in practice.

Be judgy – it’s good for you

If we take those kernels of wisdom, and use them not as action items, but as philosophy, we can start to create an ideology and vocabulary that resembles what we are truly trying to achieve.

And it’s not balance.

It’s not balance that we use to solve problems like being expected to be at two meetings at once or ensuring loved ones don’t feel neglected during the busy season.

It’s judgment.

When you imagine what “work-life balance” looks like, you probably envision yourself assessing each situation confidently and objectively, analyzing tasks, events, and appointments based on the value each provides you, and making sound decisions that uphold your values.

I know I do.

You set healthy boundaries with the people in each aspect of your life.

You stick to your principles when it comes to hard decisions.

You value yourself when it comes to time, money, and happiness.

You understand your goals and desires and prioritize only what contributes to them.

You know your strengths and weaknesses, and seek to constantly improve without taking on more than you can handle.

The goal is not to create a pie chart of our lives, and evenly distribute our time and attention between each slice. We are making swift judgments based on our wants, goals, and strengths to be executed with boundaries and self-respect.

Finally, it’s good to be judgy.