Are you striving for work/life balance? I have three words for you: Give it up! I’ve spent years chasing this pipe dream, and have finally come to realize it doesn’t exist. The phrase “work/life balance” itself should have clued me in to the fallacy of the concept. Think about it — work/life — like there’s work, then everything else. First of all, work is not separate from life, its a part of life. An important part, yes, but just one part. Secondly, should we be aiming for balance? Like equal time? Half your day devoted towards work, the other half towards everything else?
I prefer the term “life harmony”. Harmony is defined as “a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts.” That seems more desirable, and more attainable, than some notion of equal time spent on each category in life. Because, truth be told, there is no way to spend an equal amount of time on each area of your life. And we really shouldn’t want to. How do we achieve life harmony? By identifying, prioritizing, and defining success for each key area in life.
Identifying Life Categories
What are the different aspects of your life? What roles do you play? Are you a parent? A spouse? A homemaker? A teacher? A writer? A runner? A mentor? A friend? Identify each role you take on in life, and combine related roles into your life categories to keep the list manageable. Examples can be family — wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin; volunteer — PTA member, mentor.
Prioritize Life Categories
Knowing what’s most important to you makes it easier to know where to put your energy and helps to relieve the stress — and possible guilt — over what to do when conflict between categories arise. This will be different for each individual, as everyone has different circumstances in their lives. For me, my life category of family is my highest priority, and that role is put above all others. Tending to a sick child takes priority over writing a blog post, over PTA meetings, and definitely over housework. I know in my heart that this is where my values lie, so I don’t feel guilty when I act in accordance. For others, career may be their highest priority, especially if they are the primary source of income for their family.
Define Success for Each Life Category
What will it take for you to feel that you have done a good job? This is highly individualized for each person; it is essential that you honestly follow your own vision of success, not someone else’s, or what you think society dictates. Do you truly have to chaperone every school field trip in order to feel that you are a successful parent? Or is that someone else’s idea of good parenting? What do you consider successful in your career? How much time do you need to invest in volunteer activities to feel you’ve made a difference? When you have a clear vision of what you want to achieve in each life category, you know what to focus your energies on, how to plan your activities, and what you can give up without guilt.
By striving for life harmony, we are not looking to spend equal time attending to each role in our lives. We are aiming for a “pleasing arrangement” of each of our life categories. And this arrangement doesn’t have to be the same at all times. There will be times when some aspects of life — whether it be career, kids, or a hobby — takes precedence over all others. This isn’t something to feel guilty about. It’s just how life works. As long as we are pleased with the focus we are able to give each role, we have achieved life harmony.