Do you think of work-life balance as a mathematical equation to solve?
Does it feel impossible to solve it?
There’s a good reason for that: it’s not about achieving a perfectly balanced equation at all times.
In my 25-plus years as a coach, author, and mentor, the topic of work-life balance for colleagues and clients alike is often discussed. Personally, I encourage people to use a Life Balance Wheel to examine their own state of “balance” – clients break down the two categories of their life, personal and business, and rate their satisfaction with each.
And then my clients often make a misstep…
Work-life balance isn’t a tidy pie chart.
When my clients rate their satisfaction with either their work or personal lives, they have a tendency to seek an equal balance on either side of the equation. 5+5=10 and 10 is the magic number for a happy, fulfilling life. Right?
I learned that a perfectly balanced equation is a fleeting concept…and one we shouldn’t be seeking. And this realization was made crystal clear when I met an acrobat.
Here’s how it happened…
My wife and I attended a performance of Cirque du Soleil – Cavalia Odysseo – in Denver, Colorado. A tribute to the relationship between humans and horses, the show involves gravity-defying stunts on horseback. It’s absolutely dazzling. I spent the first half of the show asking myself, “How do they do that?!”
During the intermission, we joined the throngs in the lobby to peruse the souvenirs for sale and encountered one of the performers perched on impossibly tall stilts. I couldn’t resist…
I told him that I was so impressed by the abilities of all the performers. I was a life coach who was dedicated to helping his client achieve balance in their lives. And I was awestruck and inspired by their balance.
He replied, in his thick French Canadian accent,
Obviously monsieur, you were not paying attention…we only achieve balance momentarily…we are in a constant state of motion!
Work-life balance is a constant state of motion.
People who aren’t seeking a “high number” when self-assessing their sense of balance between the two worlds they occupy have found satisfaction in the imbalance.
Satisfaction is relative. And more than anything else, it’s a measure of the energy and focus you dedicate to whatever you’re engaged in at the moment…enjoying the brief moments of balance in between the times of instability.
If you’re constantly seeking a level equation, how will you risk starting a new business, proposing to your partner, starting a family, moving to a new city or country?
A life of fulfillment and stimulation will come with some days, weeks, potentially months of uncertainty and imbalance. You’re not looking for an equation that always adds up to 10. You’re looking for moments when your motion results in a state that brings you satisfaction…knowing that it is ultimately fleeting. Something is going to pull you off-center.
This approach will make you more resilient in the face of change, and also help you adapt to changes in your life over which you have no control. When you accept that there will be challenges thrown your way and you accept that you’ll have a time of uncertainty before things settle again, you’ll be less impatient for the settling.
Nurture methods for managing when your work-life balance is too off-kilter.
Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.
When you’re in pursuit of work-life balance and it seems too elusive for comfort, be sure you have a centering place to regroup. This can take a couple of forms:
- Activities that bring you peace – yoga, walking, meditating, tai chi, reading.
- Checking in with a committed listener – talking to the confidante, counsellor, coach, or therapist in your life who can guide a conversation about your struggles.
These times of imbalance are also times for learning, so take the time to pause, reflect, and breathe. And figure out some action, some phrase, some focus point that can act as an instant center for those times you are suddenly thrown off balance. Your coach or therapist can guide you with that project.
Once you see your quest for work-life balance as a fluid state of adjusting to competing energies you’ll be more settled and satisfied. Think about the ways you seek balance now…and new methods you can use to achieve a balance that always surfaces, despite the inevitable imbalances life will throw your way.
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This article was originally written in 2015, and has been updated in 2020 just for you!