Let's break-free from our assumptions of work-life balance
There are as many definitions of ‘work-life balance’ as there are people in the world. Everyone’s personal definition of ‘balance’ and what that looks like will be different for each of us because we have our own sense of needs, values, and priorities.
For some people, the word ‘balance’ symbolises a state of being able to tend to personal interests and well-being as well as upholding work responsibilities; for others, it may represent being able to live more in alignment with our values, without it being a detriment to our career; and for others, it may be about holding and maintaining boundaries to protect what is important. Now I’ll invite you to think about...
- What does a work/life balance mean for you?
- What would you like more of/and less of to be in balance?
- What will be the impact on your life and work, if you create more of this balance?
Challenging our assumptions
It’s useful to acknowledge here some assumptions we may make when thinking about a work-life balance.
1. That work is in one box, and life is in another
The ‘work-life’ phrasing creates a sense of binary thinking, as if these are two separate entities, however, we really know they are not. Work is one part of our lives, they are completely interwoven and interconnected. The way we behave, think and feel in our personal lives directly impacts how we show up in our work lives, and vice versa. To support your thinking around this, I’d invite you to reflect on:
- How does your personal life impact your work life?
- How do you show up at work when you’re feeling fully satisfied in your life outside work?
- When your work is going well, how does this impact your personal life?
- What are you noticing from the questions above?
2. That it’s all about bartering and trading time
The world in which we live is often ordered and structured around the concept of time, and the assumption that time in itself represents value and quality. I would challenge this assumption, and raise the idea that it’s not necessarily how much time you spend on something that brings the impact, but it’s the way in which you show up in that time, the way you bring your energy, attention, and your true and unique presence to that time, that really holds the impact, whether it’s at work or at home. Here I'd invite you to think about:
- When do you feel the best version of yourself?
- When do you feel most in-flow, and energised?
- What factors support you to feel like this?
- What are you noticing from these questions?
3. That it is possible to achieve a ‘perfect state of balance’
If we believe that there is only one way, one ‘right’ way, or one ‘perfect’ end point of balance that we are aiming for, this is likely to result in frustration and disappointment as we simply cannot control life. As soon as we find our balance, life has a funny way of throwing something else into the mix which might destabilise us. Perhaps then, it is more helpful to think of ‘balance’ as a verb, not a noun, as a process of continually seeking to balance and regain stability when we are thrown off course, and not a perfect static state. Here I'd invite you to think about:
- When do you notice yourself feeling thrown off balance? What is happening? Is there a pattern?
- What supports you to feel centred in times of instability?
- What helps you feel grounded and connected to yourself?
- What does one small step towards more balance look like for you?
4. That what works for others will or should work for you
As I mentioned, we each have our own versions of what work-life balance looks like, but we also have our own, very individual ways of getting there. Naturally, you’ll hear lots of advice given to you by well-meaning friends and family, saying ‘You should do this, really worked for me...’ or ‘Why don’t you just do this, I did it, and it was easy.’ When we try things that have worked for other people, and they don’t necessarily have the same success, often the automatic response is to blame ourselves, thinking ‘I must have done it wrong’, or ‘I don’t have the capacity or the power to do this’.
What it’s important to recognise, is that what works for you will be unique to you, because we are all deeply complex humans, not a computer that can be programmed with one set of code. You just might not have discovered and learnt what really works for you yet. Here I'd invite you to reflect on:
- What change have you successfully made in your life in the past?
- What made this possible?
- What supported you to make this change happen?
- What can you learn from this experience, and bring into your life now?
5. That when you decide to make a change, it will happen overnight
Like any journey to making significant and meaningful changes in our lives, it is exactly that, a journey. It takes time, patience, ongoing commitment and, like putting one step in front of the other, small repetitive actions, that accumulate over time. Behavioural science shows us that it takes a period of months to really instigate and embed change in our lives.
By acknowledging this, it releases the pressure that we put on ourselves to achieve that change instantly. We can be compassionate with ourselves along the way and really celebrate the small and incremental steps and improvements we are making. This will lead to much more impactful and sustainable results in the long term. With this in mind, I would invite you to ask yourself:
- What small changes can you commit to making that will help you move towards more balance?
- How manageable and sustainable do these actions feel?
- How could these be made easier for you?
- How will you recognise and celebrate your growth?
Challenging our own assumptions can be a great starting point in opening the door to thinking about the true transformation that we want in our lives. We take on so many stories and narratives from the external world we’ve been socialised in, that it can be hugely beneficial to take some reflective time to check in with ourselves, and really listen to what it is we want, and how we would like to make progress, in a way that really works for us as the beautiful and unique individuals we are.