Work-life balance is a fallacy.
The very term is an oxymoron. Is “work” something you do apart from your “life?” Does your “life” not consist of your “work?” And think about the definition of the word balance – “a state of equilibrium or equal distribution of weight or amount.” We have bought into the idea that having fulfillment in our personal and professional lives means we must give them equal weight and priority. It sets up a false dichotomy between the two choices and leads to perpetual feelings of guilt and remorse because we never feel like we’re giving 100% in either area.
Instead, we need to seek work-life harmony. Consider the definition of harmony – “a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts; congruity.” Work-life harmony is rooted in an integrated and holistic approach to life where work and play blend together in combinations unique to each individual. I can’t define what harmony looks like for you, but I can share five ways to help you discover it for yourself.
- Be clear about your purpose in life—First of all, you need to know that you matter. You are not here by accident. You were created for a purpose in life and there is no one else like you on this planet. Second, clarifying your purpose provides focus, direction, and energy to every area of your life. My life purpose is to use my gifts and abilities to be a servant leader and ambassador of God’s grace and truth.It’s the unifying force that energizes how I live, determines my priorities, illumines what’s truly valuable in life, and provides perspective and purpose to all I do. If you need help writing a personal mission/purpose statement, check out this five-step process from my friend and colleague Jesse Stoner.
- Seek contentment, not happiness—Our society is good at selling the lie that you can have it all. We buy into the myth and then wonder why we’re discontent and unhappy when we discover it’s not possible to be the brilliant CEO, perfect parent, super coach of the sports team, and committed community volunteer. “Happiness” is the pop-psychology topic du-jour and there’s no shortage of literature and experts telling us that achieving happiness should be our primary goal in life. Happiness is dependent on your circumstances, whereas contentment comes from a deep-seated joy and satisfaction of living out your life purpose. Happiness is fine, but true work-life harmony comes when you find contentment. Happiness comes and goes; contentment sticks.
- Understand the seasons of life—Life is defined by seasons, just as we see in nature as Spring leads to Summer, which turns to Fall, which gives way to Winter. In different seasons of our lives we will have different priorities. Whether it’s completing our education as young adults and getting established in our careers, to raising a family, to increasing our influence and impact in the work we do as seasoned veterans, or ushering in a new generation of leadership, our focus areas will ebb and flow. When driven by our sense of purpose, they all fit harmoniously together at the right time in the right way.
- Establish reasonable boundaries—When you are clear on your life’s purpose, core values, and beliefs, you can make wise decisions about the use of your time, talent, and treasure. You can support work-life harmony by setting up systems and structures that keep you focused on the most important priorities in your life. The banks of a river provide the boundaries that support the direction and flow of the water. Without those boundaries, the river becomes nothing more than a large puddle. Setup healthy boundaries that keep you focused in the right direction.
- Be present—Because we operate from a mindset of work-life balance instead of harmony, we tend to engage in a constant mental battle of worrying about how much time we’re devoting to one area of our life. It creates stress, tension, and guilt, because we always feel we’re out of balance, spending too much energy on one aspect of our lives at the expense of another. The result is we’re never fully present and invested in all areas of our life. When we’re at work we’re mentally consumed with what we should be doing at home. When we’re home we’re not engaged with our families because we’re preoccupied with what we need to do at work. Enough already! Being present and focused in the moment increases our joy and satisfaction tremendously which benefits us in all areas of our life.
Achieving work-life harmony isn’t easy. It involves trial and error, learning what works and what doesn’t. There is constant assessment and re-calibration of how you’re investing your time and energy, but the payoff is less stress, peace of mind, and increased devotion and passion toward all you do in life.