Is Work-Life Balance an Illusion?

The problem with work-life balance is the term “balance”.


Does it mean the same to me now that I am a mother of 3 young kids than it did when I wasn’t? Does it mean the same to me as to all the mothers of 3 kids?

Is the balance achieved through a clean 50%-50% split or by “special allowances” so you can leave early to attend a recital, meet your best friend for his bachelor’s party, work over the week-end or go on a 2 weeks business trip?

It depends. It depends on you.

I’ve once seen work-life balance illustrated as a spiral with an absolute in the middle and your experience fluctuating around that middle. Sometimes leaning more onto the work side, other times more onto the life side.

The key is to lean toward your own middle. Not to be on it.

As the only way to be on it is by removing any seasonality, unexpected opportunity, unplanned event, inspiration or spontaneity. If you manage to design such a life it is most probably unbearably dull or incredibly exhausting to maintain.

Ultimately that middle is not a destination, it’s a direction.

What is that middle made up of? For me it is made up of: time spent with my children, family and friends, the feeling of personal growth (intellectual and spiritual), the sense of achievement, the opportunities for contribution, the ability to make money, the delight of being lost in an activity, the opportunity to connect and make things easier for other people.

For me the far ends of my spiral are made of: days spent with whinny children, administrative tasks, too many short nights, any job activity that doesn’t have helping people as a goal.

It is not the same having to spend an evening working on a (to me) pointless report, than on an exciting new project that is going to improve the efficiency of the whole team. As it is not the same getting up at 4am to be on the first plane or to take care of a feverish little girl.

Take some time to think about your middle. What is it made of?

Its components are influencing your life. They have influenced the decisions you have made and will make. They determine your level of satisfaction with your current situation. If your life is being directed by elements that are actually not part of your middle but “imposed” somehow, you will feel very dissatisfied. If you are experiencing fluctuations around your middle but within the components that you choose, you might be frustrated. But this will pass by leaning more towards the other side.

The typical example for this is the new mom who feels she has to stay late at work every night. If it is for a limited and predictable amount of time, or she is doing this for a bigger purpose (a calling, career advancement, etc.) it will be easier to handle and to avoid guilt-tripping than if it is just what she thinks she has to do.

A good example of this is Safia Minney – Faire Trade Pioneer and change dynamo.

She started her business when her 2 kids were very little. Safia travelled (and still does) extensively to develop and promote her sustainable fashion line. And as she was becoming a more and more visible, she was also getting more criticism for “leaving” her children to the care of the nanny – and her husband but apparently that doesn’t count…

But she is on a mission, a mission for the world, a mission for her children.

Are you unsure about your own middle? Try the following exercise but first let’s put down some definitions. I don’t like to think of my life as split between work & life. Weather I like it or not my work IS part of my life. And ideally my work and my life actually have things in common – at the very least me….

So let’s rephrase by talking about professional and personal dynamic.

Take a piece a paper and draw a line in middle. Draw the line with a thick marker.

On the left side write personal dynamic, on the right side write professional dynamic.

Take a moment to close your eyes and breath to relax.

Start with personal dynamic and fill in the space answering the following questions:

–       what are the things that you believe you must do?

–       what do you dream of achieving?

–       what do you absolutely need?

–       what brings you joy, inspiration, energy?

–       what makes you feel connected

–       what makes you relax

–       what makes you feel useful

–       add anything important that comes to mind when you think of your personal life

Close your eyes again. Take a few deep breaths and repeat the same process for the professional dynamic.

Once you are done take a bright marker and highlight the really important words.

Take a look & see what your “balance” is made of. If you focus on having as many of the bright words experiences you’ll be moving in the right direction… For now… LOL

For more on Safia Minney’s company:

photo courtesy of Arztsamui,

3 thoughts on “Is Work-Life Balance an Illusion?

  1. Great article. I see too many moms beat themselves up because of that little “balance” word. You’re SO right that it doesn’t necessarily mean 50/50. It’s going to look different on different days as well as phases of your life. There’s no right or wrong standard. It’s going to be unique for each mom and each family.

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