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Work-Life Balance: Give Up On Balance?
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Work-Life Balance: Give Up On Balance? - Executive Leadership Articles

Work-Life Balance: Give Up On Balance?

Executive Leadership Articles

Work-Life Balance: Give Up On Balance?

When a hot topic gets its own categories in popular blogs and online publications, you can count on a wave of articles making the case for the opposite of popular sentiment. If some new training concept sweeps the nation, there are voices in opposition. Yes, some are trolls seeking attention, but more often, at least in reputable, credible places, these voices illustrate that our issues are seldom as simple as to be solved by a new catchphrase, trend, or paradigm.

So it is with work-life balance. There’s no shortage of pundits positing the impossibility of work-life balance, the misguidedness of work-life balance, or the more sensible strategy of giving up on work-life balance. Yet we’ve seen the self-help shelves in the bookstores, and authors who reside on those shelves say work-life balance is desirable and attainable. Of course, if it were so attainable, one might ask why the books haven’t worked themselves out of jobs. Rather than fewer books on the subject, there are clearly more each week.

The advice for giving it up falls loosely into three categories. First, and most common, is the position that the problem is one of semantics changing perception. A word like “balance” paints a picture in our mind of distinct spheres of our lives, each receiving the appropriate amount of our time and energy so that we can do them all at optimum levels. The naysayers, such as Sheila Lirio Marcelo, CEO of Care.com, express that “It’s an antiquated way of thinking that suggests we check our family lives at the door from 9 to 5, and we leave work behind when we leave the office. That’s just not the way the world works, and it doesn’t have to.” Marcelo insists that we come to the office as whole people doing multiple jobs and with multiple passions. We don’t stop being parents while at the office, and we don’t stop thinking about our jobs just because we’re in our living rooms.

Then there are those who, like four-time start-up founder Penelope Trunk, say we need to accept the fact that we cannot be our best at more than one thing at a time. This is not a tactful thing to suggest, but the case can certainly be made, if one is honest, that there are tradeoffs whenever we try to serve two masters. To do anything with excellence takes enormous amounts of focus, sacrifice, time, energy, and flexibility, and the minute we consider splitting those up among our priorities, we’re trading off some of our excellence in one realm in favor of another realm. Trunk says once we embrace this reality, we free ourselves to make our choices based on what we want to be excellent at, and when. One of Trunk’s suggestions is that we forget about balance and consider doing work and life sequentially: “This is what many all-or-nothing types do,” she says. “They train for the Olympics and then they go to college after they compete. Or they work long hours for a decade and then they quit to have kids. Or they travel for five years and then start a career.”

Some writers take a position kind of in the middle of these two approaches. Forgetting the idea of balance, they say we should ask ourselves what will make us happy and what we’ll need to do to achieve that happiness, which includes making choices for what must be omitted so that we can pursue the stuff that will bring it. Writing for Entrepreneur.com, author Deirdre Maloney says, “It means choosing how much of [our lives] will involve our businesses, and then being unapologetic about it as we carefully communicate this to our loved ones. Because our businesses are part of life. It means choosing just how much of [our lives] will be made up of family and friends, hobbies, self-care. It means figuring out what has the most meaning and carries the most delight and going after it with everything we’ve got.” This approach agrees with the concept of the integrated, whole self while accepting that you can’t be excellent at everything, and some difficult choices may be in order. The flaw in this reasoning is that it assumes one can be truly happy with a number of passions or interests manageable in the time we have, which may not be true for some people.

The real lesson to be learned from these multiple voices, including those on the self-help shelves, is that life is complicated, and work is complicated, and that each of us seeks his or her own concept of happiness, and there is not single approach to this happiness that works for us all. For some, it’s the rigid segmentation of office life and home life, while for others it’s a move-with-the-groove holistic approach where we serve each thing at the time of need, wherever our bodies are occupying space and whenever we happen to be there. If it helps to give it up, even if we’re not really giving it up, or if it helps to embrace each new conceptual framework as it appears in the bookstore, we’ve got to make it work our way, and if these articles and books have value, it’s in helping us find it.

Reference links:
Sheila Lirio Marcelo (via LinkedIn): https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/my-life-outside-work-why-i-gave-up-work-life-balance-lirio-marcelo
Penelope Trunk: http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2015/08/19/what-life-would-look-if-we-said-no-to-work-life-balance-and-a-nod-to-amazon-of-course/
Entrepreneur: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/252494

 

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Work-Life Balance: Give Up On Balance? - Executive Leadership Articles

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