A lot of my clients complain about their work-life balance—or more aptly, work life imbalance. They feel like circus performers, juggling a multitude of balls. One wrong move, one twist of fate, one split-second of distraction and the balls come tumbling down.
Read more: Work-life balance doesn't really exist>
Achieving that elusive balance requires us to re-imagine the entire paradigm. Here are some questions to get your re-think on the right track.
Why do you have so many balls in the air anyway? Likely, you fall into one of the following three categories: 1. You can’t say no. You are boundary-less. When asked to bake cupcakes for the church bake sale, volunteer for a school field trip, or represent your division on yet another committee, you do it. You could say “no,” except that, well, you can’t. Learn how. Still choking on that little two-letter word? Practise saying something like, “Yes, but later this month, after I finish my current responsibilities, and they’ll have to be store-bought."
2. You are a martyr. It’s not that you can’t say no; it’s that you won’t. Handing off a few of those taxing responsibilities would mean giving away bragging rights. You’d tarnish your badge of honour. Workaholics, I’m talking to you. How about finding self-worth elsewhere. Just a thought…
3. You have no patience. And you’re in good company. As a culture, we’ve come to believe—even expect—that we should have it all. Right now! Ever wonder why it is that French enfants, some as young as four, sit patiently at the table for hours while our kids race around like hooligans? (No, they don’t spike the Perrier.) European children practice patience. They work it like a muscle. We all need to develop our capacity for waiting. Life isn’t a short story; it’s a novel. What you don’t accomplish in this chapter, you can tackle in the next.
Which ball should I drop? When we become parents, we draw an imaginary line from the top of our head to the tip of our toes. Half of us belongs to our work, and the other to our family. Our sense of worth, therefore, is derived from one or the other. The trouble is, when we’re at work we feel like we’re failing our family; and when we’re with our family we worry we’re failing at work. In psychological terms we call this a double bind—a no-win situation. But this "bipolar" division is too simplistic an equation. We derive essential identity as a friend, as a daughter, as a runner, as an amateur chef (you get the idea). We need to get mindful about what truly fills us up and become discriminating about which balls we choose to juggle.
What do we mean by balance, anyway? What is it, exactly, that we’re trying to accomplish? I think many of us have unrealistic expectations based on misperceptions around what a balanced existence “should” look and feel like. We aim to order chaos to create some sort of Buddha-like serenity. Well, stop “shoulding” on yourself! I’ve got news for you: Nature is in constant flux between order and chaos. Just ask Newton, or ask the ancient Chinese philosophers who first posited that there is a yin to every yang. You can’t have shadow without light, and you can’t have balance without prerequisite imbalance. So learn to listen to what isn’t working so you can zero in on what is working. Imbalance isn’t a sign of failure, but rather a natural, inevitable state that provides clues to help you get back on track.