Are you leaning in, leading with your values, walking your why? Have you mastered the 4-hour work week so you can maximize your true self? Is yours a purpose-driven life, or are you still trying to find the perfect life hack for that?
If the mere idea of asking and answering all those questions seems like an awful lot of work, then the rest of this post is for you, though you may not like the path it takes.
(Spoiler: If resolving tension between professional time and home time is your goal, then you’ll have to put some effort into finding a solution that works for you. There is no free lunch.)
There’s no shortage of self-help resources (books, blogs, assessments, newsletters, etc.) for anyone feeling out of balance, stuck, or frustrated, particularly if that imbalance is a conflict between traditional notions of “life” and “work.”
The pandemic brought this issue into hyperfocus, but the tension between life and work is nothing new, especially for people who “work” in careers and also “work” at parenting or caregiving in the home.
Solutions for finding work-life balance are typically based on the premise of separation and boundaries. So techniques for disconnecting or unplugging from “work” range from putting physical boundaries on work-related materials (a storage ottoman for your laptop and mountain of papers!) to more rigid calendar management. The underlying guidance in both of those examples is that “work” and “life” need distinct, independent compartments or containers.
What would happen if we stopped pretending there were a wall between “work” and “life,” acknowledging instead that work is a component of life, no “” required.
Here’s an example: Even if you disconnect from “work” at a certain time of day, say 6 p.m., or when you leave the home office room in your house/apartment, you will still, in all likelihood, allow “work” to enter conscious thought after you’ve closed the door or turned off the phone notifications.
It might be as simple and innocuous as talking to your partner about the next day’s schedule. Maybe you lay out your clothes for the next day before you go to bed. The version of yourself who will be going to work (or not going to work, which means you’ve thought about work/not work) is an active participant in that thought or action, even if the thought or action is small.
Work is part of life, and rigid structures or barriers can’t keep that truth from being true.
You can avoid thoughts of work or actively avoid doing anything that looks like work, but you cannot erase a part of your life. Also: Avoidance is not the same as resolution.
Perhaps there’s a different way of framing the problem. One way to approach that reframing would be to write a simple but clear problem statement, just for yourself, about what you’re really trying to do. What’s the current state, the desired future state, and the gap in between current and future?
Maybe start here:
If you want a better balance between “work” and “life,” then define what those three key words — balance, work, and life — mean to you.
Does balance mean equal time? Equal energy?
Is “work” the time/effort spent in exchange for someone else’s money? How does that “work” differ from the work of living, which includes the boring, tedious, and necessary activities like vacuuming, paying bills, and brushing your teeth?
Does the concept of “life” conjure a picture of leisure pursuit and enjoyment? Or is “life” just the absence of work?
Before you can find, achieve, or settle into work-life balance, you have to get clarity about what that means for you. Not what it means to a self-help guru. Not what it means for your best and dearest friend. You owe it to yourself to be clear about what this looks like for you.
More to come; stay tuned.