The Secret to Work-Life Balance (and It’s Not What They Tell You)
The pursuit of work-life balance is like a horse disguised as a unicorn. It appears real at first glance, but a horse is a horse, of course. And unicorns are whimsical horses that only exist in fairy tales, which leaves us to define what work-life balance looks like in real life.
If you leave it up to some articles, you would picture a graceful gymnast walking on a balance beam (arms delicately stretched, back straight, toes pointed, chin up). But striving for work-life balance, in reality, looks as elegant as an elephant standing on a beach ball.
So let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
Work-life Balance is Full of…It
The truth is this: it’s not possible to find a perfect 50/50 balance if you’re a self-motivated professional — even if you try all the fail-proof tips from “highly successful people.”
After you get past the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed stage of your career, it becomes more important to be able to do certain things in life such as buying a home, starting a family, and splurging on luxury vacations to escape it all — just enjoying your life.
You work hard to play hard. But there’s a catch 22: This usually means putting more effort into your career than you would like.
This, in itself, takes up a lot of your time and nowhere in the equation is family, friends, and (gasp) you. Therein lies the struggle of balancing your career and your personal life.
Achieving work-life balance sounds so neat and simple when in fact it resembles the act of packing circus performers in a Kia.
The Juggling Act
I wish I could tell you I knew the key to balancing it all, but I’d be lying. On some days, I juggle way more than I should. While I have no problem saying “no”, there are times when I suffer from “one more thing” syndrome. It goes like this: I’ll squeeze in one more client, take on one more project, write one more email, or cross one more item off my to-do list.
I learned the hard way that constantly juggling too much never makes you a superhero; it makes you insane! I talked about this in a post where I discussed how toxic your “busy” can be.
There’s no first place prize for trying to do it all or pleasing everyone around you. It usually just means you’re cheating yourself out of enjoying the things that matter to you like sleep, quiet time, health, or relationships with people who are actually worth your time.
The Alternative Path To Harmony
Recently my dear friend and I were having one of our many thought-provoking conversations (picture a cliffs notes catch-up, simultaneously scattered and concentrated, as crazy as that sounds). We talked about all the things we juggled collectively as wives, parents, friends, and professional women.
Then almost out of nowhere, the aha moment made an appearance like the answer to a complex math problem we figured out at the same time: It’s not about striving for balance. It’s about prioritizing what’s important.
You see, the more you have going on in your life, the more your personal needs fall lower on the totem pole. So instead, focus on your priority pole. This is what makes you feel sane in the midst of the madness.
It can be as small as having a glass of wine before bed, going to the gym, reading leisurely. Or, it could be as big as monthly spa days, staycations, or regular getaways. It’s really up to you and can change from time to time.
Whatever it may be, stay true to your priorities and don’t let what’s important to you fall by the wayside, because that’s really when you will be out of balance.
You must choose your top priorities and hold on to them for dear life.
It’s not to say you can’t focus on more than one area of your life, but it’s hard to give everything equal attention. Thinking that you can “balance” it all rather than accepting that you can’t is really where the stress comes from.
For example, if you’re getting married, or having a child, your focus may shift from expanding your career to ensuring a comfortable home. Or, if you’re going for a professional certification or taking on a new career endeavor, you may need to shift your energy into managing your increasing responsibilities.
So, no, life is not about achieving the perfect balance. You’ll find a unicorn walking on a wire wearing a pink tutu before that ever happens (and if you do, I need to find more dramatic metaphors to make my points).
Life is a juggling act. Life is messy. Life is thriving in the highs and picking yourself up from the lows.
You can’t pack that neatly in a box,or Kia, because maybe you don’t want to settle for a mediocre life or career. And maybe, just maybe, you wouldn’t have it any other way.
Originally published at maribrandsforyou.com on February 11, 2016.