There is no such thing as “work/life balance”

Aug 10, 2011 by

There, I said it. Work/life balance is a mythical concept. Much like the fabled unicorn, it is a creature that is much sought after, but can never be captured – because it DOES NOT EXIST. Throughout your career, you will hear people rant and rave about it as if its an attainable goal that they are just barely within reach of, but know this: they are either lying or they are just plain delusional.

Why doesn’t it exist?

First, the phrase ‘work/life balance’ assumes there is a difference between the two. Maybe in our parents’ generation the concept really did exist. You couldn’t do all that much work at home without your computer (or typewriter/word processor if you want to step it back even more) and even if you came into work on the weekends every once in a while, you weren’t constantly expected to be on the job. Well in case you haven’t figured it out, those days are done. *Insert obvious statement about modern technology here* (you get the drift). Plus, if you’re a typical nonprofit employee, you live and love your work anyway. You’re looking for every opportunity to advance your mission and to spread the word. Thus, there is no difference.

Secondly, the implicit assumption is that balance can exist at all, which is patently ridiculous. In my experience, everyone is dealing with something crazy whether in their work life, personal life or in someplace else. You may not see it, but that doesn’t mean someone else is free from all kinds of stress.

An example: Right now yours truly is in the middle of what I like to call a ‘stress ball’ – as in, my stomach and brain are constantly curled up in a self-defensive ball in an attempt to resist the onslaught. The onslaught is coming from work, blogging, wedding planning, more work, family, more wedding planning, YNPNdc, consulting, giving presentations and webinars, more working, attending conferences and traveling, etc. etc. etc. Hell, even trying to schedule a drink/dinner date with some friends (and writing this post, natch) is stressful right now. Perhaps you’ve been somewhere near here before? Even if you haven’t, I guarantee you will someday – and probably pretty soon.

Since I often use blogging as a coping mechanism anyway, I thought I’d put my mind to dealing with my stress ball and hopefully help you out at the same time. Here’s what you can do (and what I’ll be doing) to deal with it:

  • Stop trying to create a work/life divide in the first place – See above: stop killing yourself trying to draw a line, just accept that it doesn’t exist.
  • That being said, try to set aside time to deal with each area of your life and stick to it – If it wasn’t for my Google calendar, I couldn’t live my life productively. Period. I use it to schedule times for blogging, for returning personal emails, for creating those webinars and presentations and more. My fiance knows that on certain nights, I’ll be working between 8 and 10 (and we don’t plan anything else those nights). On Sunday mornings I always do any household cleaning that needs to be done. Hell, if you have to schedule time to have fun, do that too.
  • Take care of yourself so that you can do everything you need to do – First things first: get some damn sleep! I don’t care how well you think you operate on 5 hours of sleep, because you’re almost certainly fooling yourself. Eight hours makes a world of difference when you have 80 things to do tomorrow. Eating right and getting exercise regularly is a part of that too and it all leads to being healthy. Getting sick in the middle of 10-alarm craziness is one of the worst things that can happen; don’t let it happen to you!
  • Try to accept it – There will be some times when both your work life and your personal life (as well as your consulting, blogging, side hustle, etc. lives) are all crazy right at the same time. Sorry, but life doesn’t give a crap what else you’re dealing with right now. When you realize that you’re getting buffeted on all sides, sometimes all you can do is put your head down and soldier through. There will often be an obvious end point to the craziness, but if one doesn’t appear after a while you may want to think about bowing out of some of those commitments to which you’ve already said yes that are creating stress.
  • Take pleasure in the small things – Right now, 20 to 30 minutes of reading on the bus to and from work is pretty much my only leisure time and I really need it. Whatever your small pleasures, try not to drop them in the middle of the onslaught. Just a few minutes meditating or getting a manicure or having a beer after work can help refresh you.
  • Take it easy on yourself – In the end, all you can do is breathe through it and give yourself a break for being human. I had a goal to write this blog post last week, but I didn’t. And you know what? That’s ok. There is only so much you can do at the best of times and in the worst of times, your ability to do anything not absolutely necessary is greatly reduced. If you accept it, things will be a bit easier.

I would love any other advice that you have to help me and others cope with the stress ball. What do YOU do when that fake ‘balance’ is throw completely off? Let me know in the comments!

*Flickr photo courtesy of user zoomar
  • Nancy

    I am glad someone has had the guts to finally say it. Balance is something to strive for yet will never be attained for any length of time. 

    When you are stressed, you remember to take breaks that refresh you…even if the “break” is remembering to breathe….or get a glass of water. Lots of small interventions can pay big dividends!

    • Thanks for the comment and the advice Nancy. Remembering to breath is so simple yet so very easy to forget in the middle of it all…