There is a phrase that is thrown around all the time. It forms one of the main focuses with my clients and I was chasing it for a good long while trying to make sense of what it meant to me. It’s a notion that people talk about without really knowing what it is for them and people use it as a standard measurement when it’s one of the most variable concepts around.
I’m talking about work-life balance. That famous phrase people put out there all the time and refer to as if it has a universal meaning. To me work-life balance is something that is a starting point to a whole other conversation! Most people I talk to on the subject of their career say ‘yeah, it’s a good work-life balance for me’. They are then surprised when I ask how that work-life balance looks to them.
Work-life balance is so subjective to each person who uses that phrase. It is so unique to their circumstances, beliefs, views on the world, relationships, standard of living and aspirations in life (I could go on)! It is an opening into their world to see what this person values in their version of work-life balance. I can’t know whether it’s a good work-life balance for them without knowing what that looks like for them. When I ask people what their work-life balance looks like for them I usually get three responses, which look something like this.
- ‘I was looking for more time with my family and this now allows me to do just that!’
- ‘Well it gives me more money/freedom.’
- ‘Oh, I don’t know really, I suppose I hadn’t thought about it that much.’
Response number 1 is the most uncommon answer that I get back. This type of answer reflects back that they know what they want and to what end. In the example this person’s work-life equation is balanced because they now have more time with their family as a result of their career. To be honest, not many people give as a succinct answer as this. However, this indicates that in their world time with their family is an important factor for their work-life balance.
Responses 2 & 3 are pretty much tied as the most common answers I get. Response 2 shows that they know what they have gained from their career which contributes towards their work-life balance. This type of answer shows a hint of knowing what is going to give them a positive work-life balance, but they are quite vague about what. What is it that this money/ freedom is going to get for them? How does that make it a good work-life balance for them? There are still some unanswered questions here for themselves as to what a work-life balance is for them.
Response 3 is a dead cert that they don’t know what their work-life balance looks like, or at least they can’t verbalise it. They probably have a feeling of whether it’s right or not but it’s not been put into words. At this point their career may or may not be contributing in a positive way towards their work-life balance. Most likely it’s probably a mix with their career fulfilling their work-life balance one minute and not the next. It’s just not in their awareness yet as to exactly what it is that makes a work-life balance a balance for them.
We all have an ideal work-life balance that we are chasing. A lot of us are on one side of the equation more than the other and tend to overcompensate when we realise we aren’t in a balanced synergy. People take wild, extravagant holidays because they need to time out from their busy work schedule. Conversely people take on more responsibilities and work overtime to try and balance out the work side of their equation. For a lot of people a work-life balance is something that is never quite hit on and there is a tug one way or the other. They are correcting and compensating to change it back to a time in the past when they were the closest to that balance for them.
Really all of this is a moot point, the notion of fixing a point in our personal work-life balances which we are working towards. Work-life balances ebb and flow throughout our life, they change direction and have different meanings as we progress through our life. Our definition of balance is going to change if we decide to get married. It will change again when we have a child, and again when we move to a new town. Every experience in our life will alter where our work-life balance sits and what makes it more or less balanced. The idea that it is a fixed destination that stays there throughout our entire lives is just unrealistic. Being able to identify where our balance is and taking stock of what brings us joy and clarity in our minds is a much more beneficial goal. To be self-aware in auditing how our work is impacting our life and vice versa, is a fundamental skill in finding what these two entities give us in our life. We are using this idea of work-life balance to get something greater for ourselves like, freedom, happiness, calm, security and purpose. When we can look at the areas in our life and identify what these aspects are getting for us on a higher level, then we can truly create a flexible work-life balance and engineer our priorities.
For more thoughts on work life balance, take a look at some more of our blog posts.