The phrase “work-life balance” is such a croc. Maybe for a few (rare) people, the equation that adds up to harmonious unity between when and how they work and when and how they live is a lovely thing to behold.
In my minds eye, these precious few have a life like this:
7:00 Wake-up when their body arises (easy since they went to bed early at 10)
7:15 Read their gratitude journal over fresh pressed French Roast
7:45 Head to the gym or for a run
8:45 Shower and gather their work bag to head to the office in low traffic
9:00 A few meetings, nice robust time to think
5:10 A leisurely drive through sun dappled streets home in the early evening
6:00 A relaxing, nutritious dinner with their beloved followed by bedtime stories and fresh smelling pajamas as the kids go to bed
8:00 A rewarding conversation with their partner before a restful read, making love, and drifting off to sleep
But I have never actually had a day like this. Not once.
My days (and I suspect many of yours!) consist of periods of intensity and chaos, energizing hard conversations, just-in-time reports rushed to FEDEX, meetings prepped for and noted, an occasional collapse into a Netflix binge, sometimes a yoga class or a delightful novel. Very little about my life actually feels balanced minute-to-minute; It feels more like a rapid fire of tradeoffs and compromises punctuated by delight, brilliance, mess, and sweat.
At age 54, given that most of my days on the job have been this way, I want to declare to the word that “It’s working! The juggle, the-wildly-out-of-balance-CEO-mom-sister-wife-mother-friend-former-athlete-wanna-be-creative-writer-person that I am, somehow manages to run a profitable business, have people who still love me, and make a difference somewhere.”
But privately, I often feel guilty that my life does not match the images I conjure of the people around me living the perfectly balanced life. I walk around in slight shame and feeling deeply inadequate that I missed yoga (again,) that my horse remains un-ridden, that my friends wonder when I can have wine with them, and all of my closets are disorganized. At my worst, I fear that I’ve become a workaholic. To Webster’s dictionary, a workaholic is “a person who works compulsively hard and long hours.”
What lies in-between the extremes of the “perfect” balance and workaholism?
I think it is engagement. I read once that Michelangelo worked for days on end when he was doing fresco that he loved. I remember my own father, an architect, always sketching in his book (on vacation, in the kitchen, at dinner.) And who hasn’t, at times, pushed so hard that you got blisters on your feet or were tired the next day, or had to miss a softball game because you were so interested in your work? When we love what we do, it becomes us: fully, completely, and powerfully. We are lucky for those moments when the clock stops and we lose awareness that this is “work.” Employers should bottle up those employee moments as an asset.
Sometimes engaging work demands long hours and sometimes it let’s us leave it alone so we can rest and play and sing and dance and laugh. In the words of Paul McCartney, “let it be.”
But the ratio is highly personal, isn’t it? I see clients ashamedly admitting to having worked on the weekend or compulsively beating themselves up for not working out. What if we let work absorb its natural place in our lives, and trusted that it would expand and contract based on what we need? The Peter, Paul and Mary song “For everything there is a season…” comes to mind.
If we want to work hard sometimes, we should! No guilt, no shame. It feels good, matters to the world, and gets things done. And in the same breath, remembering while we work that rest and play give us space for growth. So, back I go to work, knowing that at another time in my life equation, I will swing the pendulum to play and rest; it’s precarious, balancing, and I consciously vow to let it be.