What’s the deal with work-life balance?
It seems everywhere we look, there are articles and books and videos that tell us how we can achieve this ever-elusive idea. We’re told that if we just find the right daily planner and set some definitive boundaries that we can have it all. We can continually grow our businesses, provide loving homes for our families, learn Spanish, have a date night and even get an extra hour of sleep to boot. And we believe these messages. We believe that we can have it all -- and do it all -- perfectly. Hurrah!
And then what happens?
We go to a networking event to make new contacts but then miss out on our child’s recital. We skip dinner with our spouse in order to finish that next Spanish lesson before class. We feel stressed and guilty as the tough stuff gets tougher and the fun stuff falls away. And that extra hour of sleep? Forget it.
That’s when we figure out the big truth, which is that, when it comes down to it, we can’t have it all.
But here’s the even bigger truth.
Why work-life balance is impossible
Work-life balance is not achievable because our work-life reality has changed. While researching the book Bogus Balance, I found that the phrase was first used in the UK in the 1970s. It reflected the notion that we have separate life areas, and we need to balance them out. This conjures up the image of one of those old TV dinner trays, one where each life component has its own, neat little place. No messiness. No overlapping.
Perhaps this was possible back then. Today, not so much. Thanks to those almighty advancements in technology, most of us are accessible to pretty much anyone, anywhere, at any time. Which means we can network, research that project or hold a client meeting smack dab in the middle of our family vacation.
And, let’s get real here. We don’t just integrate our businesses into our lives because we need to. We do it because we love our businesses, or at least we believe in them enough to invest our lives in them. For us entrepreneurs, work is a part of life -- and a pretty great one.
Put it all together, and today’s work-life reality has taken those neatly separated TV dinner trays and mushed them together into big, messy stews. Our businesses edge into personal stuff and personal stuff edges into our businesses. Which makes finding true balance an enormous challenge.
Why work-life balance doesn’t really matter
So what are we as entrepreneurs to do? Are we supposed to just accept our stressed-out, unbalanced fate, knowing that the rest of our lives will be filled with far too many activities and tasks and people?
Of course not.
The first thing we need to do is give up on the whole notion of work-life balance. We need to give up on the idea of having it all. Instead, we need to work on having our all.
What does this mean, exactly? It means making choices, deciding just what will make up each of our individual life stews. It means choosing how much of it will involve our businesses, and then being unapologetic about it as we carefully communicate this to our loved ones. Because our businesses are part of life. It means choosing just how much of it will be made up of family and friends, hobbies, self-care. It means figuring out what has the most meaning and carries the most delight and going after it with everything we’ve got.
Now, of course, there’s a catch to this.
Having our all also means choosing what will not be part of our life stews. After all, we have a finite amount of time and energy in each day. This means we must choose the things that matter less, the things we will give up or decrease so that we can fully focus on what matters most. This also means we must find the discipline to stick to our choices, to pursue what we want and let the rest go, to manage our technology so that it doesn’t distract us and break our focus.
It's time for us all to give up the notion of work-life balance and find our true balance, our true happiness. Our businesses will be better for it. Our loved ones will be better for it. Our lives will be happier.
In the end, that’s what this life is all about.