How to Stop Being Delusional About Work-Life Balance

With over 34 Million Google entries and over 2,500 books on Amazon alone, work-life balance is one of the most popular topics during the recent 10+ years.

But don’t be deluded by work-life balance – it just isn’t true!

Allow me to clarify, it’s not the concept, rather the phrase, “work-life balance” I don’t believe to be true.

For some readers, balance is a meaningless concept – one you believe is only for those who aren’t fully dedicated to their career.  For others, you believe the concept is a myth, a dream that can never be reached, and those who continue to search for it are fools.  And then there are those, like me, who believe it’s a significant matter and can be achieved with direction and focus.

But in my opinion, the phrase work-life balance implies a 50/50 split.  It suggests that work represents 50% of who I am and then all else that defines me as an individual is summed up into one word – life.  And this is where we become deluded because I don’t believe work represents 50% of my identity and then the leftovers remain for all else that is just as, if not more, important to me.

I didn’t think about balance in this way until I suffered my own breaking point at the end of 2013 when I realized everything in my life was suffering because I was giving nearly all of my energy to only work.  That’s when I began thinking of life as divided up into Eight Balance Points – Professional, Personal, Relationships, Health, Financial, Fun, Environment and Legacy.  I believe that each of these should be comprised of an equal amount of contentment, based on the individual and their needs, in order to feel balanced.

Notice I use the word contentment instead of time.  This is intentional for two reasons.

First, for most people the Professional Balance Point consists of 40+ hours a week or approximately 35% of waking hours.  As a result, it would be impossible to divide the Eight Balance Points into equal amounts of time.

Second, you don’t typically rely on amount of time spent in order to feel content – there’s a clear difference between amounts of time versus one’s level of happiness.  We know the saying, and I believe it to be true, “It’s not about the amount of time; it’s about the quality of time.”

I’m offering to look at our Balance Points of Life in the same way – equal contentment across each Point based upon quality of time in order to feel balanced.  Consistently dedicating 40 hours each week to Fun may not be possible, but if the quality results in high satisfaction, then it can be a victory.

I’m also not suggesting that one is completely balanced in each of the eight Points at all times.

Imagine a person exercising by standing on a circular balance board.  The goal is to be completely centered and balanced at all times, without the flinch of a muscle.  But this isn’t true majority of the time because at any specific moment, depending on the focus, strength, or particular exercise, they’re leaning into one area.  This is intentional, it serves a purpose and delivers a result.

But after some time, their muscles should experience fatigue and thus compensate by shifting weight in the opposite direction.  If they fail to shift this weight, if they continue to lean into one direction for too long, they’ll experience muscle exhaustion and they’ll eventually fall off the board.  At this point, they may need to overcompensate in another region or, as their muscles strengthen, they can remain equally balanced for longer periods of time.

Now imagine you’re standing on this balance board and it’s divided into the Eight Balance Points of Life.  Ideally, you would be equally balanced on the board with little effort and at all times while beaming with a bright smile.  We know this isn’t reality.

Just like the first example in which the person senses physical fatigue is near and shifts their weight to another area on the board, we too should recognize mental fatigue is near and thus shift focus to another Balance Point.

For example, you may need to spend more energy on your Professional Point of Life in order to finalize a project, wrap up year-end tasks or prepare for a vital meeting.  Not only may you be spending more quantity of time than usual on this Point, but it may also pull from the quality of time you spend in other areas as a result of increased stress or lack of sleep.

When the project or meeting is complete, it’s vital to shift focus to the Balance Point(s) that experienced a void or a deficit in order to revive oneself and achieve balance.  This is not only important for your balance, but most likely for those close to you. 

If you fail to shift focus and restore balance, that’s when we “fall off the board”.  In other words, we begin that downward spiral into feeling overwhelmed, stressed and possibly depressed because life is out of balance and out of control.

Final Thoughts

The next time you see work-life balance, I’m offering that work is not and should not represent half of your identity.  Instead, your life portion is made up of many facets, seven that I’ve identified.  Evaluate where you’re at and consistently shift energy across the Eight Balance Points of Life so you can stay “on the board” just a little longer.

How do you respond when you think about work-life balance?  Share your thoughts to this question or any comments on this post.