The Life Balance Myth

January 13, 2015

@home, @work

If you’ve been around me much,  you’ve probably heard me say that I don’t believe in such a term as “Life Balance.”  I realize that sounds either fatalistic, or, at least, discouraging, but, for me, it has actually been one of the most freeing, enlightening thoughts that I’ve grasped as a mom and full-time employee.

Let me explain.

Every time I see a corporate panel discussion or read an article about achieving a life (home/office/social/personal) that is perfectly “balanced,” there’s a part of me that says “hooey.”  It’s not that I dismiss the goal of having a happy home life AND a successful career AND a sense of personal fulfillment, I just don’t think that you get there by being “balanced.”  One of the main reasons that I throw quick flags on the thought is simply because I just don’t think it’s possible to balance everything.

To me, the word “balance” makes me visualize a scale of weights.  The word implies that everything gets worked on equally so that for every task in one area, there is some sort of counterweight in another area.   The goal seems to be fairness – equanimity…that everything gets its equal and fair amount of time, energy, and focus.  To some, this pursuit of equal allotment sounds like a clean, worthy aspiration.  However, to me it sounds like a set-up.

Here’s why.  Who can possibly achieve that perfect alignment?  How do I know, with any accuracy, what any given activity “weighs” (or should weigh) in any season of life?  How do I know which meetings to shorten versus which school functions to miss? How do I weigh the value of a nap against the value of finishing the laundry? How do I draw any sort of comparison between salary compensation (in dollars) and kicking a soccer ball around the park with my son (in minutes and smiles)?  The pursuit of equal balance is like comparing apples and oranges.  They simply don’t compare.

The word “balance” also implies that every decision is precisely evaluated and executed and put in its proper place.  Every decision has to be on the correct side of the scale.  What a pressure cooker!  Why do we do that to ourselves?  We can’t possibly be balanced.  This is the recipe for a nervous breakdown.

Thus, I gave up a long time ago trying to achieve this elusive, perturbing, and stress-inducing balance.

Instead, I think the more precise and helpful term is “blending.”

Blending implies a level of incorporation so that one aspect of your life can work well with another aspect of your life.  Like most of life, they don’t necessarily stay separate…any more than I can banish the thought of how much I love my family while I’m sitting in a boardroom or can keep out that work idea that pops into my head while I stand at the dryer folding clothes.

I see it like cooking a stew or soup dish.  If you are preparing a dish and want to incorporate multiple flavors, you have to understand the principle of blending.  The goal isn’t to have every ingredient equally represented in the dish –  you never have the same amount of meat as you do spices.  You don’t add the same amount of fat as you do liquid.  The aim is to achieve a harmony of the ingredients so that everything works together.  The goal is incorporation – integration.

I like “blending” because it is more realistic. There’s more grace in achieving a blend than in achieving a balance between all the areas of my life.  I need to have a plan but can also flex and experiment with the seasons of life (especially since they change). When I had a newborn, I was blending a demanding job, with sleep deprivation, with business travel, with visiting my extremely ill mom who lived across the country.  During this time, there were days where work took the hit…and it was also the reason that my daughter flew 25 flights before her first birthday.  The ingredients I have to blend in this season of life feel easy to harmonize compared to the season when I had newborns, so the ingredients and proportions have changed.  My kids are older and their demands are different…as is my job.

Ultimately, making each segment of my life “balanced” with equal time, energy, or focus isn’t the goal.  I don’t have the capacity for creating balance.  I DO have the choice of setting priorities.  I have the ability to decide how things should blend.

In an earlier post I described my embarrassment over the encounter with the window washer, but I’ll always appreciate the lesson I learned.  I can’t compartmentalize my life any more than I can control when “surprises” happen.  I don’t want to live a fragmented, divided life where things have to be equalized to be good (mostly because that isn’t the way that my heart and brain work, either).  There’s more room for grace in a blend, and I will lean into grace every time.

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7 Responses to “The Life Balance Myth”

  1. David Andersen Says:

    Nice! Very compelling/thought provoking. And the hyperlink to Websters was a nice touch! I’ve always been intrigued by acceptances speeches that acknowledge success for a good nanny……..


  2. Julie Tiemann Says:

    Joy, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog, and I’m so glad you’re writing about topics like this. I have actually wanted to pick your brain about being a working mom for a long time, so this blog is kind of giving me a chance to do that. 🙂 Please keep it up!


  3. Anna Rebecca Says:

    Hi Joy! Great post! It’s a great discussion and thought to start the new year off right! My busy life is carried over from the last year and I am struggling with trying to create that “fresh start” in trying to blend all of my priorities. I can’t imagine having kids!


  4. joycannis Says:

    This is such great wisdom, Joy. Thank you! What a great read for me this morning!


  5. Jill Roberts Says:

    Great wisdom Joy – thank you!!!


  6. Mike Hill Says:

    Great article. I also like to use the illustration of violin strings to describe a balanced life. If the strings are too tight they break, but if they are too loose, they don’t play beautiful music. The key is to realize there will always be tension, but to be successful, you always have to be tuning your instrument.


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