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Ditch Work/Life Balance and Find Real Happiness: Part I

Yes, livingcomes with sacrifice. But by getting rid of the things and relationships that make you only somewhat happy (or plain unhappy), you get to live a life filled with what you love best, and then focus on them with everything you've got.
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Part I: Your Blissful Stew

Work/life balance is a nice idea.

It's that ever-elusive dream that we can achieve that perfect mix of professional, personal and parenting activities, all executed with drive and grace.

The problem? It's impossible to achieve. The work/life reality has changed.

While researching my book Bogus Balance, I found that the phrase was first used in the UK in the 1970s. It was created with the idea that we have separate professional and personal life areas and we need to balance them out.

This conjures up the image of one of those old TV dinner trays...one where each life component has its own, neat little place. No messiness. No overlapping.

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Perhaps this was possible back then. Today things are very different. Thanks to advancements in technology and new work space solutions, we can work from anywhere at any time of the day.

And so our neatly separated TV dinner trays have morphed into big, messy stews...with everything now all mixed together.

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The good thing is that this allows us to always be moving and shaking, to have access to all kinds of information and people at any time. The bad thing is that it can make finding any kind of balance extremely challenging.

So how can any of us find some sense of balance and happiness despite the current work/life reality?

We begin with the stew itself.

Most of our stews are quite full. And that's fine, as long as those stews are made up of the right things. And the right number of them.

But they're often not.

The problem is that we're aiming for the wrong goal when it comes to our stews. That pesky notion of work/life balance doesn't just insinuate we can divide our life components easily and neatly. It also implies that our lives can be inclusive of every single opportunity out there, and that we can do them all perfectly. No need for discernment. No need to make choices.

We believe that if we just try hard enough we can constantly grow in our businesses, excel at our current projects and be the super-parent, super-partner, and super-book-club member along the way.

It's not possible. When we try to squeeze our never-ending list of activities into a given day, our time and energy run out. We can't focus. We wind up doing a bunch of things partway.

And then we feel like we've failed. We feel stressed. We fell guilty.

True balance isn't about having it all. It's about figuring out your all...what really matters to you, what delights you. It's about knowing your stew's limit, then letting the activities and relationships that don't make the cut...go.

Yes, living your all comes with sacrifice. But by getting rid of the things and relationships that make you only somewhat happy (or plain unhappy), you get to live a life filled with what you love best, and then focus on them with everything you've got.

Let's get balanced for real...
The following exercise will help you assess and create some strategies to figure out your blissful life stew. Give the following questions a go and be honest. Nobody is watching...so nobody is judging:

1. What kind of life stew would you like to have?
  • What percentage of your day would be spent on your work?
  • What percentage of your day would spent with your kids (if you've got them)?
  • What percentage of your day would be spent with your partner or on other close relationships?
  • What percentage of your day would be spent alone?
  • How would you feel in it?
2. What kind of life stew do you currently have?
  • What percentage of your day is spent on your work?
  • What percentage of your day is spent with your kids (if you've got them)?
  • What percentage of your day is spent with your partner or on other close relationships?
  • What percentage of your day do you spend alone?
  • How do you feel in it?

3. What are some general ideas you have that could bridge the gap between the above two sets of questions?

4. Reflect on your past year:
  • What were your top three moments?
  • What three moments did you dislike the most?
  • What left you feeling the most energized and excited?
  • Who did you most enjoy spending time with?
  • Who left you feeling depleted and negative?
5. Determining your all. Based on your answers above...
  • What activities and relationships do you want to continue or increase in your life?
  • What activities and relationships do you want to consider decreasing in or eliminating from your life?
  • How will you go about making these changes?
  • What is one thing you will do this week to get started?

Congrats to you! You're taking steps to commit to your all, to live a balanced life...for real.

This post is the first in a series designed to help you find greater happiness. The exercise is one example of several that are featured in the book Bogus Balance. Next time we meet we'll feature another one: your blissful others.

Two other notes...
- This blog post first appeared in the WAHM blog
- Special thanks to Daniel Oines for his pic of the TV dinner tray, and to jeffreyw for the stew photo