Do you worry about life balance? Women are obsessed with finding balance. How do we manage busy lives, giving time to our jobs, our families, and ourselves? The dream is that if only we could find balance, we would be happier, less stressed and more fulfilled.
At a recent event I attended, we were asked to introduce ourselves and share something we were working towards in the next year. Almost every woman shared that they were working on finding balance. We crave it, fearful that we are missing out on the peace and satisfaction that we will feel when we finally achieve balance.
The elusive search for life balance is a cultural phenomenon. A google search for “life balance” quickly returned over a billion results. There are institutes, courses and employee assistance programs devoted to life balance. There are thousands of articles devoted to sharing secrets, tips, and strategies for achieving life balance. There is a whole category, time management, which promises better life balance if we learn to use our time in a more productive manner.
I used to worry about life balance. I routinely worked sixty hours a week. I was very happy in my work, but I thought I should feel miserable about my lack of life balance. I was aware of the unwritten law that says being “balanced” means we spend time equally at home, with our families and friends, and with our careers.
The result of feeling that you should be doing something that you aren’t causes stress. My stress did not come from the long hours, but rather from the feeling that I was not “balanced” and I needed to change something.
A strange thing happened on the way to finding balance. I quit my job, moved, and started working for myself. My kids are grown, and I have the time and freedom to spend my life however I want to spend it. I have far fewer expectations and in theory, it should be much easier to find balance. It turns out that it doesn’t work that way.
Life balance doesn’t mean what most people think it does.
A balance life is not about the percentage of time you spend at any given activity.
You can feel perfectly balanced working long hours. You can be out of balanced with a week off and no pressure to do anything. Balance is in what you are doing, not in the amount time you spend doing it. I find as much satisfaction in ten minutes of snuggling my cat Gatsby as I do with two hours working on a project that I love.
A balanced life is not about meeting the world’s expectations.
The world will tell you that too much hustling is bad for the soul. Cultural expectations can make you feel that if you miss a soccer game you are a bad parent. Messages from media tell us how much we should weigh or what we should wear. Trying to meet the expectations of the world adds to our stress.
A Harvard Business School study of 4000 executives found that one of the key factors in executives who are successfully straddling work and home is that they define success for themselves. They make deliberate choices and don’t lose themselves in the process.
A balanced life is about understanding yourself and what it is that makes you thrive.
I know a woman who runs every day because she says if she doesn’t run, she doesn’t feel human. Running should be a priority for her. I also know a woman who goes to a yoga class because she thinks she needs more balance. The yoga class is just one more item on a very long to-do list; she reluctantly attends and admits she hates it. I don’t think she will find balance there.
I feel balanced when I am doing meaningful work. I also know that I need time to quietly think and read. Although I value and enjoy my friends, I don’t need regular opportunities for margaritas and girl talk. For you it might be just the opposite.
Balance is in the understanding that there isn’t a mandatory list of things that bring us balance, but that we get to choose what is right for us.
We need to prioritize the things that are important to us.
Balance is about being willing to give up things that don’t matter to do more of the things that do matter. For years I didn’t watch television, but I spent time reading with my daughters every night. I give up elaborate cooking in exchange for making the same few simple meals over and over. Cooking doesn’t matter to me and I feel no guilt.
Can you let go of things that don’t matter to find more time for things that do matter? Laser like focus on doing the right things can make us happier, less stressed, and more fulfilled. Those are the promises of “life balance” and the feelings we want to have when we are balanced.
We don’t need to chase life balance. We all have the power to make choices every day. When we define our own success, understand what we need to thrive, and make choices that reflect our decisions, we will finally be able to let go of our worries about finding life balance.