Before it even had a name, I was an instinctive practitioner of work/life balance. At a very early age, I decided that it was more important to have a life into which I might fit any number of activities, including a job, than to have a “career,” which appeared (to me, anyway) to preclude much of life and its abundant choices. I’m very pleased to tell you I have a wonder-full life without really ever having had a career!
Let’s face it, women have held jobs throughout the ages, brought home paychecks and supported families as single-income earners. My grandmother Ellen McNamara was a Rosie the Riveter, and my mother worked from the time she could get working papers until several years before she passed.
Round about the time I graduated college, women were entering the work force in increasingly large numbers. For the purposes of discussion, “workforce” at the time meant those hallowed halls and lavishly appointed boardrooms heretofore the province of professional males, not the workforce of my maternal ancestors. Come to think of it, “workforce” still means that in large measure.
I’m not sure when I made the connection between the appearance of the “work-life balance” issue and the swelling ranks of women in the workforce. I just recall that it wasn’t part of most HR Departments consciousness until at least the late 80’s, as more and more fast track MBA hires wore navy-blue skirts. When it did appear on HR radar screens, HR was pretty deliberate in naming it work/life, emphasis on the work part first.
As navy-blue bland cedes (finally) to color and individual style, work/life balance as a nice-to-do phrase has begun to yield to life/work balance as a deliberate choice. I hear of and from more and more women questioning the merits of the 24/7 career path, even as they seek their own roads less traveled.
Whatever the merlot-fueled musings, the siren songs of down time, any way you look at it – work/life or life/work – it’s the “balance” part of the equation that remains elusive, even as we continue to chase it in the hope of finding it and achieving it. It’s not often you hear men speak of finding work-life balance. This issue seems largely to be one for X chromosomes.
In spite of all the heartfelt entreaties to Our Lady of Perpetual Balance, how do you know if or when you’ve achieved that balance? Well, you don’t, really, in part because life and events are never static, and partly because balance itself isn’t static.
Have you ever tried tree pose in yoga? The idea is to balance on one foot while the other foot is aligned with your inner knee. To stay upright requires constant movement of the foot on the floor, and one never feels quite balanced. And so it is with work/life balance; one never quite feels it amidst the constant movement of life, so it must not be balance!
Then we foolishly tell ourselves, that if only we work at it more, we’ll find that work/life balance. So we add another task on top of all the other tasks that destabilize balance – the task of finding balance! Even if we do manage to achieve balance, it’s fleeting. Then the chase begins anew.
How about this: forget about balance and learn to juggle!! I’m happy to report I’m in lifework balance recovery and have taken up life juggling… Cancel the high wire walk, put down the balancing pole and pick up a few juggling balls. Why juggling? Well, juggling is far more forgiving, far more fun, and way more real.
Juggling is also a much more apropos metaphor for our lives. Like us, juggling is imperfect. We’ve got so many things going on at once, and we’re keeping most of our lifeballs in the air even as we refine and deepen our juggling skills. Sure, we’re going to drop some balls, but that’s part of juggling. We accept it and we keep going, ready to juggle again.
The notion of balance doesn’t allow for falls or drops. Balance implies a frozen, graceful perfection few, if any, of us achieve. When we don’t get there (wherever there is), we mistakenly believe it’s either because we are or aren’t doing something right. The quest for balance promotes imbalance.
So, stop trying to balance and start juggling. Juggling is the new balance.