Why Life Balance Won't Work

I wrote the post below a few years ago, but since this topic is still part of my weekly conversations with parents, I thought I'd repost it  for all of you.  Plus, I am engrossed in a book (I can't wait to tell you about it on Friday!), so I'm going to read tonight instead of write!! ************

My earlier post about the ill-timed visit from the window washer was a defining moment for me to understand that finding "life balance" isn't realistic.

I think achieving balance is like trying to write the Great American Novel  through well- crafted mathematical formulas. Establishing balance is tantamount to creating a football bat or climbing an MC Escher staircase.

The paradigm doesn't make sense...and really doesn't work.

The idea of "balance" isn't, in my opinion, the solution for succeeding at work,  home, or in your personal life.   Instead, I think you need to figure out how to "blend" what you believe is important in life.

After all, real life doesn't stay in safe, distinct compartments.

rubber band
rubber band

"Blending" recognizes that I have work ideas while I'm grocery shopping; I think about my family while I sit on conference calls; and I work with people whom I call my dearest friends.

Life refuses to stay in clean, equal categories, so why try to push it there?  Blending doesn't mean your home/work/personal fall apart when one segment of life becomes more demanding.

Here is a word picture that helps frame the thought.

Imagine a rubber-band that is stretched between two points.  The band is fixed in place by well-established anchors.  This is the rubber band's "normal" position.

When something happens to stretch the rubber band beyond its normal position, it does so with relative ease.  No big whoop.  When the demand decreases, the rubber band goes back to its usual place.

I bring up this analogy because that is how life feels to me.

I make a concerted effort to have a structure and plan to my life.  The "plan" is comparable to the fixed anchors of the rubber band; they don't move much on "normal" days.  They are the hours that I usually allot to family, work, rest, and personal growth.  Still, not every day is normal.  Some days (or even hours) demand that I shift focus, time, or energy from the plan in order to blend in the changing demands.

In short, life stretches different ways on different days.

Life is dynamic that way.   To try and keep it all the same shape every day doesn't make as much sense as blending the "push" of one category with the "pull" of another...so the demands flex and all work together.

Let me give you a practical example.

(Note: The scenario below is for a married person with kids.  However, the concept of blending applies even if you're single or have grown children.  Guarding your time is just as important in your circumstance.)

Suppose that your work day is usually 8-5.  This means the kids are on the bus by 7:15 am, and that allows you to hit Dunkin' Donuts before reaching your desk at 8 am.  However, on THIS day, work has a surprise for you.  Around noon you find out that you have a conference call with the West Coast office which means that you have to be on the phone at 6:30 pm.  That extra hour and a half kills your chance to have dinner with your family...and blows up your plan to be home by 5:30 each day.  What do you do?

  • Do you decline the meeting request?  (What's with the West Coast expecting to work during their work hours anyhoo?  Ha!)
  • Do you call your sitter/spouse and tell them you're working late and to enjoy their evening without you?

Is this an either/or situation or is there an opportunity to blend? Do you take one of the options above or do you find a third way?

For years, I would have tried to "balance" this problem.  I would have taken a "cut-and-dried" approach and picked one of the solutions and moved on.  Back then, I would have consulted my mental scoreboard and figured out which one (work vs. home) had "won" last time, so that the other would "lose" this time.

After all, the goal was to keep life "balanced," right?

These days, I try to blend a solution.  My life asks this of me.  My sanity is restored if I figure out a way to blend my work demands with my need to hurry home.

So, in this example, how do you blend?  Think about this.. (Starting off easy and most obvious)

  • Can you suggest an alternate time for the meeting?
  • Can your input to the meeting come in the form of an email?
  • Is there someone else in your group already capable of representing your thoughts?
  • Do you absolutely need to have a voice in the meeting or will a recap be sufficient tomorrow?
  • Can you ask if anyone objects to your taking this call from home?

If none of these approaches are appropriate, or if you feel that you need to blend the other way this time, then think about what a blend would look like for your family.  You'll notice that all of the ideas below require flexibility on both your part and on part of the family.

  • See if your spouse is free for lunch and have a lunch date in lieu of dinner time.
  • Drive to school and grab lunch with your kids instead of dinner time.  (Often, the surprise school visit is worth the hit of a late-night working.)
  • Work through to the call, knowing when you have to peel out early to make the school's talent show later in the week,  you can do so without apology.
  • Ask the family to drive to your office so that can jump off the call and grab a quick dinner or dessert with you as soon as you're free. (Sometimes this makes for a fun adventure for the family.  I get tired of my office environment, but my kids never do..."Can we Xerox our face?")

Through it all, manage your plan with the expectation that any given day won't necessarily be "balanced."

Remember, if it's not the last minute meeting you need to blend into the schedule, it might be the last minute doctor's visit; if it's not the surprise quarterly report, it might be last minute book report; if it's not attending the client dinner, it could be baking the birthday cupcakes.

Achieving balance and sticking with a plan isn't as important as flexing and moving towards a blend.

What have been your best ideas for blending?