Yesterday someone started talking to me about “work-life balance,” or maybe it was “juggling work-life balance,” or “finding the right balance between work and family.” I’m not completely sure because I tune out within a nanosecond of someone talking about work-life things. (Although the idea of juggling in order to stay balanced is a bit intriguing.) Nevertheless, whatever she was talking about was bothering me. It all sounded….you know….like HR-speak. Nothing screams “poser” like someone searching for balance between the right amount of time spent on work and the right amount of time spent on family. Oh, yeah, and the truly excruciating, “right amount of time on me.” And if you think it’s hard to go to work, make dinner, play with the kids, and hit the gym, try adding overnights to LA and 6 hour delays in Detroit to your list of things to juggle.
I first read about work-life balance after I had my first baby and I was thinking about who would care for her when I went back to work. Our insurance program had some “Work-Life Balance Program” that I could call to get “guidance.” They even had a brochure. Like any new mom, I was eager to read everything about baby care (when I wasn’t crying at diaper ads on TV). So, I read all the options I should consider and then I was invited to call some hotline to get personal advice about my, no doubt, unique and special situation. Ok, I’ll give it a whirl. What I got – far from advice on the pros and cons of day care, au pairs, nannies — was a canned speech on the importance of balancing work-life and making time for myself.
So, if the baby is crying and throwing up, it’s okay to take that yoga class because she cried yesterday too, right?
I know – it doesn’t work that way. I get it. But I also get that work is life. And family is work. The suggestion that work-life is some see-saw where we can strive for, and even plan for, the exact point of balance gives me the creeps. I can’t even understand half the things people mean when they talk about work-life — it all sounds so contrived.
Any female corporate traveler knows that she has made trade-offs; maybe she missed the first tooth, or the first steps. Or the ultimate insult: baby’s first words are “dada.” But work is important to her, too.
Working women (and men) have a lot on their plates and may find it hard to make time for themselves and all that jazz. But, are brochures, hotlines, pilates classes, and deep breathing really the answer? Aren’t our own personalities going to ultimately decide where our internal metronome sets its tick?
I was out with a colleague and his friend once and we started talking shop. The friend naturally couldn’t follow what we were talking about. Finally, he said, “You know, only about 10% of what you’re talking about matters.” That was pretty provocative, and on the mark! So, maybe the key to balancing all of our responsibilities and roles is to focus on the 10% that will most likely matter and just let the other 90% go off balance a bit.
Image above by Pretty Parkin