Stop trying to find work-life balance. It rarely exists. The scales will always become out of balance because the world never stands still. The world around you is always changing. New expectations, challenges, stressors and more are constantly around the next corner. Balance is fleeting. It is an outdated concept that should be left in the scrapyard. Even with all of the attention given to work-life balance, 65% of employees report that workplace stress has caused various difficulties in their lives.
Work–life balance is known as the equilibrium between personal life and work life. Equilibrium is defined as a state of rest or balance due to the equal action of opposing forces. First and foremost, when have you experienced equal action of opposing forces when it comes to work and personal life?
The success of work-life balance also rests on the idea that a portion, a good portion, of our work-life balance is within our control. Of course our actions, decisions and choices are within our control. However each of us has obligations and our choices do have consequences. We will always be faced with the impact of our choices. For some those consequences are reflected in a loss of employment, tattered relationships, divorces and more.
We are all seduced by the concept of work-life balance. Who wouldn’t be? The idyllic notion that we can live in this comfortable steady place is alluring. Yet life does not work that way. Life is a bit like a rollercoaster. We experience twists, turns, ups and downs. We come across unexpected proverbial bumps in the road. Every time we encounter the unexpected, the uncertain, or the overwhelming; balance gets thrown out the door. The unfortunate consequence is that we have held up balance as ‘real’ and ‘attainable.’ We have placed balance on a pedestal and created frustrations and problems in the wake. We know the phrase “Life happens” and when it does, work-life balance can be in direct conflict.
Another problematic glitch with work-life balance as a concept is that it starts with the notion that two aspects of our life are in conflict. The view that we live two separate lives is a misnomer. We do not live a work life and a personal life. We live one life with multiple aspects. Ironically we even oversimplify those aspects. I know very few people that can identify one single personal life aspect. Even within our personal lives we hold multiple proprieties and endure role conflict. In truth, our lives are much more complex and rich than we tend to describe with theories that oversimplify.
What are we to do?
We need to approach our difficulties with a new metaphor. I prefer the concept of work-life sway. Sway means move or cause to move slowly or rhythmically backward and forward or from side to side. It refers to the constant shifting based on the rhythm of life. Work-life sway is more like surfing or sailing. We can’t control the waves, wind or the weather, but we can learn to sail the ocean. Sailing uses the energy from the wind to propel the boat through the water. Sailing does not fight the wind. Sailing does not see conflict in the wind. Sailing sees the force as something that can be leveraged. Captains have been known to use a wet finger, wind in their face, a tuft of yarn or line, reading the sails, and reading the waves to determine how to approach the current situation. A skilled sailor does not see themselves as detached from the climate and the sea. They see themselves as a part of it, as interconnected. We should take the same approach when it comes to work-life sway.
Read the situation
First we should notice when we are swaying or need to sway. Read the situation and be intentional in your swaying efforts. What does the situation call for? It means being flexible. You may need to sway toward a work issue and recognize that you will sway back to the personal as soon as the issue is resolved. Recognize intention matters otherwise the waves of change will push you around and you will not make progress. Chance is not a strategy.
The purpose of sway is to create ease and reduce stress. Getting angry, frustrated only wastes time and uses up mindshare. Children struggle with transitions and so do many adults. However, adults can’t afford to struggle with transitions. Adults must learn to be agile and not let their emotions get the best of them. Just sway and figure things out.
Quality over quantity
People often measure work-life balance in terms of time. Time is a low value measure. Sway is about quality as a measure. Am I present in the moment? Those that can focus and “Be here now” do better work, are more productive, and develop stronger relationships.
Choice over balance
While balance is not attainable, choices are within your control. Focus on what you can control. Balance is based on forces that are outside of your control and in many cases, your influence. However you can be creative, brainstorm and make decisions that reflect you and your priorities.
Know your noble goal/purpose
If you have identified your life’s purpose, managing decisions and choices is easier. For instance, my noble goal is “To inspire others to discover and live their possible.” I spend my time and energy doing things that support that purpose. When I lose sight of my purpose in my daily life I lose motivation and recognize that I need to return to my purpose.
Mindfulness over stress
Finding ways to manage the challenging moments is paramount. Practice mindfulness and develop your emotional intelligence. People who are self-aware and maintain a sense of calm sway more productively than others. Learn to meditate in short spurts, have a playlist that helps you get through difficult moments, utilize a person as a coach, or find a way that works for you.
Self-empathy is important. Do not judge yourself. Everyone struggles at times. You are not alone. So be kind to yourself. Provide yourself with a bit of grace. It is difficult to be there for others if you are unable to be there for yourself. Part of work-life sway is to sway to meet your own needs and not just the needs of your boss, organization, family and others.
The concept of work-life sway recognizes that nothing lasts forever. Music has stayed with us over the generations, but the style has changed. Same with dance styles. Those that have remained relevant have changed with the times. Artists like Elton John and the Rolling Stones have stayed front and center when other acts have come and gone. The sway should be a tool that helps you shift and cope with the changes in your life. The sway helps you remain relevant, productive and successful in your whole life over the long haul. Find your sway and learn to sail the choppy seas.