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Work-Life Balance: Walking on The Balance Meme
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Work-Life Balance: Walking on The Balance Meme - Executive Leadership Articles

Work-Life Balance: Walking on The Balance Meme

Executive Leadership Articles

Work-Life Balance: Walking on The Balance Meme

“Work-Life Balance? Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That!”
“Survived Another Meeting That Could Have Been an Email!”
“What if I Told You: There Is No Work-Life Balance?”

An image search for memes about work-life balance brings up these sentiments accompanying popular images of Sweet Brown, Success Kid, and Matrix Morpheus, among hundreds of others. Just as the self-help shelves in bookstores are laden with titles espousing strategies for achieving work-life balance, the web is rife with these pithy expressions about the struggle to find balance between the work we do and the lives we live.

In its strictest definition, a meme is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. In casual conversation nowadays, the word has taken a more specialized meaning, usually in the form of a photo with snarky text superimposed at the top and bottom. Memes spread through the internet via websites, email, and messaging services, but mostly through social media. Their purpose is often to highlight angst, irony, humor, or encouragement about shared experiences. This attempted universality is key to a meme’s catching on. It typically only gets passed along if it taps into a common consciousness, which can be either a resonance with the sentiment, or a shared awareness of the cultural allusion in the photo.

This is a far-too-verbose way of saying that a look at popular memes about any subject can give you a good sense of general sentiment about it. It’s true that in social media spheres, many of us tend to live in echo chambers, where most of our interaction is with others who feel the way we feel, but an image search for “meme” and whatever topic you’re interested in usually cuts through those chambers, and there are still many topics—work-life balance among them—that exist separately from politics or religion.

So what does the meme-search tell us about our feelings that we don’t already know? Not much, really, but a few thoughts, not to mention a few good chuckles, can be drawn from an extended dive. First, there is the unmistakable theme of work-life balance’s elusiveness. Nobody’s creating image macros (the more specific term for these images if they haven’t reached the recognition level of celebrities) about how great work-life balance feels, or how simple it is to achieve it. Everything’s set to a kind of wistful or twisted soundtrack, the sad realization that perhaps we’ll never really know what work-life balance is. Some of the memes even feature unicorns talking to each other.

Within that feeling of elusiveness there’s another theme, one that’s not discussed much in those self-help books: that work-life balance is for the privileged, for those who’ve already paid their candles-at-both-ends dues and ascended to a level importance that places more value on their personal time so that they can be better with their professional time. This is not necessarily a contentious topic—with increased professional standing come better benefits, in many fields. Many of us don’t begrudge our higher-ups their higher pay or better lifestyles, but an understanding attitude like this can be harmful when we translate it into a feeling of being unworthy or incapable of balancing our lives with our work. This cannot be a healthy approach, and if nothing else, it speaks to the importance of managers and executives communicating to their rank-and-file that they are all worthy, deserving, and capable of having a great career and a thriving personal life.

Here’s the biggest takeaway for us all: the ubiquity of work-life balance, in memes, in online columns, and on bookshelves, is an expression of hope. We may never find the kind of balance we dream of, but the continued conversation is important, because it means we haven’t given up on it yet. John Steinbeck wrote that we are all born with a debt we can never repay, but that ignoring the debt poisons us. There’s a deep truth in understanding that the work we do for a living is only a piece of our experience on earth, and that ignoring the debt we have to ourselves and to our loved ones will only poison us. The proliferation of these memes is an indication that we continue to strive to make good on what we owe ourselves and each other.


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Work-Life Balance: Walking on The Balance Meme - Executive Leadership Articles

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