The Myth of Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance. People talk about it, strive for it, but is it really something we can achieve?

I don’t think so. Have you ever done balance poses on the yoga mat? Then you know that balance is a dynamic experience, built of movement and tension. It’s not something you achieve and put behind you—it’s an ongoing dance.

It’s a bummer when “work-life balance” is on our goal pedestal, because it isn’t an outcome. We walk around feeling like a failure because we can’t meet our own expectations.

So, instead of looking at balance as a discreet event, experiment with looking at it as a process. Notice what is working and what is not working. Ask…

What am I choosing now?
What is satisfying about the choice?
What is uncomfortable?
What do I need to shift?
How do I want to be in the midst of this ride?

Stop trying to juggle responsibilities and priorities. Instead, aim for finding your flow.

Flow, Not Balance

That’s how Dr. Christine Carter sees things, too. She’s a sociologist and Senior Fellow at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. She’s also a happiness expert and coach who hit the wall, suffering exhaustion from overwork as she coached the public in work-life balance. This experience inspired her second book: The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work.

In her view, the very idea of balance suggests that there’s a perfect, achievable ratio between work and pleasure/personal life, as if they’re mutually exclusive or a zero-sum game.

Instead, she points out that the quality of your professional life will always be dependent on the quality of your personal life. If you’re happy, you’ll be better at your job.

I agree completely. When we’re happy outside of work, we have more motivation, energy, creativity and grit in our work life. Want to improve your potential for achievement? Improve your personal life.

The Sweet Spot: Overlap of Ease and Strength

I love her image of the sweet spot: “the overlap between where we have the most ease in our lives and the place where we have our greatest strength. Think of it as a Venn diagram, with a ‘strengths circle’ and an ‘ease circle.’”

So that’s the image of balance I like to take away: a balance between these overlapping arenas. Some of us live in our strengths, some of us live in our ease. A healthy, sustainable, evolving dance between these two is the way to find joy and richness—not in balance, but in flow.