Why we don’t like to use the term ‘work-life balance’?
95% of attendees at a recent workshop spoke about Work-Life Balance.
I was recently facilitating a workshop on Empathy and Self Compassion for Professionals, and out of the 40 participants, I would say that 38 of them brought up difficulty in finding ‘work-life balance.’
The workshop was tailored to the needs identified by the school, so it was not supposed to cover work-life balance. But when 95% of your attendees are talking about an issue, I didn’t feel like it was a topic I could just ignore. This blog post touches on some of the points that I find useful to understand the idea of work-life balance and the points we discussed in this workshop.
Work-life balance is bull$h!t
I read a LinkedIn post recently that said that (and I’m paraphrasing): work-life balance is bull$h!t, and if you love your work then you want to do it, and spending 20 hours a day working brings you joy. The only people who whinge and moan about work-life balance are people who don’t love their job. That’s on you. Get a new job. I haven’t referenced that post, as it is probably one of the most ridiculous posts I have read. I LOVE my job; I have been passionate about this industry for more than 19 years, and in the last few years, thanks to Covid and our ability to ‘pivot*’ I have worked way too many hours and not looked after myself, and as a result, I burned out at the beginning of the year.
*Also, thanks to Covid, pivot is right up there with ‘resilience’ as a word I never want to hear again!
Reading that post made me irrationally angry (or I could argue it made me rationally angry).
Fast forward probably a month, and I was driving while listening to the Lead To Soar podcast and an episode called ‘Why Work-Life Balance is BS’. Due to the previous LinkedIn post, I would have turned the podcast off if I hadn’t been driving (which isn’t fair as I generally enjoy the podcast). My perception had been coloured, and I thought I would hear similar sentiments to the LinkedIn post. I was pleased to be wrong.
Work and life need to be equal to be balanced.
When we talk about work-life balance most of us get this idea of a scale with work on one side and life on the other. We have work and we have life, and they are separate entities and they aren’t intertwined. This gives the idea that work isn’t part of our lives. Often, we spend 40 hours a week at work. Is that not part of our life?
It also gives the idea that they have equal weight. Work is this massive single thing, but then ‘Life’ is everything else all squished together.
It’s like we have a complete painting on one side – work, and then a jigsaw of everything else that makes up life on the other. Work has equal weight to EVERYTHING else put together? Does that feel right?
Forget balance – look for harmony.
In the podcast episode, Michelle and Mel talk about instead of finding balance, try to find harmony. They used a lovely analogy of a symphony. Sometimes in the symphony, all the sections play together beautifully; at other times, the strings take the lead, and everything else is quiet. Later the woodwind or brass may take a solo, and then you don’t realise, but the rhythm section has been there keeping the beat the whole time.
This ties in really nicely with the Life Grid theory that I explored in a previous blog post on our sister organisation website. While the blog post was initially written for a changing identity that comes with new motherhood, it explores the idea that life is made up of many different elements.
Going back to the symphony analogy, at times, all the elements of our lives are playing in harmony. At other times work (the woodwind section) becomes the focus, and it takes the solo. Then we shift and need to focus on parenting, so the strings take the lead, and the woodwind fades into the background. It might be that we need to focus on our hobbies or relationship, or we become obsessed with checking the exchange rate because we have an overseas trip coming up soon, and all the other elements take a back seat.
When there is an issue, when life is thrown out of harmony, is when one of those sections, or worse, a single instrument, is the sole focus for too long. There is a reason that (to my knowledge) there are no symphonies written for ONLY a tuba to play! We need the other instruments to create harmony!
How does this help
Hearing this idea of life as a symphony helped give me a mental picture of my life. I can ‘see’ the different sections of my life up on stage. It helped me to recognise that there will be times when one section has to take the lead. Times when a tender is due at work, and I work ridiculous hours, and that’s ok because that is just that section taking its solo. That was fine because once the tender was in, it was time for the ‘work’ section to quieten down and the ‘quality time with my children’ to shine, and only after the time with my kids did I look to get the whole orchestra back in harmony.
It also helped me recognise that when the work section was the only section playing for way too long, I could look back to that life grid and also complete the ’10 things that bring me joy/10 things I do most often’ worksheet, see what I wanted to add back in and to think about ways to do that. These gave strategies to bring back that sense of harmony.
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