Every time the topic of “work/life balance” comes up, I cringe a little. Here’s why:
First, I think the phrase encourages a weird kind of binary thinking about our daily way of being. There’s work, and there’s everything else, which falls into the category of “life.” Somehow, we are supposed to “balance” these two areas of existence. But that doesn’t work for me, because there are seasons where work demands more of my energy, and seasons when I have to devote more attention to the other stuff.
Secondly, the phrase has potential to be sexist, to tyrannize women more than men. Think of the times you’ve heard the phrase, and most likely it’s been in a gendered context. The idea of “work/life balance” often walks in lockstep with “having it all” – that a person (usually female) should be able to maintain a home, nurture a relationship, raise amazing children, advance on the job … and do each of these things at tip-top, 100% levels. And look beautiful while doing it.
Here’s a new way of thinking:
What if it’s all just “life?” What if the “balance” isn’t binary, but a three-legged stool of mind, body, and spirit? What if we acknowledge that we can’t do everything, and the most noble use of our time is to choose those things that are most important to us, whatever others might think? What if we give our best in each area of our lives, and realize that on any given day, our best might not be 100%, and that’s ok – what might happen then?
I don’t claim to have the answer, but I’m no longer interested in “having it all.”
Once upon a time, I thought the world had a handle on top that only I could turn. Then a funny thing happened: I became ill. I was hospitalized for five weeks. In the middle of a semester, my classes were suddenly being taught by somebody else, I missed every meeting, attended no conferences, wrote no articles.
And the world went on without me, while I turned 100% of my attention to getting well. It was a season in my life, a chapter, but the lessons have continued for years. I had gotten into this mess in the first place by neglecting my health at the expense of work, and my body demanded its due. It’s time, it said, that you pay attention to me, and I’m going to stop functioning properly just so you get the message.
In other words, my three-legged stool had become wobbly, and it collapsed beneath me.
These days, I’m being intentional about feeding my mind, body, and spirit every day. Some of this feeding takes place through my job, some through physical care, some through tending my environment, and some through nurturing relationships. The combination of activities will constantly shift and change, but it adds up to a whole life.
A life that’s composed of a lot more than just what’s left over after my workday is done.