No Work-Life Balance? Try For Four Shifts Instead

By: Stacy Kim

Image Source: Thinkstock

I've been immersed in the topic of career-family conflict since 1993, when I decided to go to graduate school after a short stint working in advertising.

Guess what? The landscape has changed very little since then.

Recently both Anne Marie Slaughter and Sheryl Sandberg have been highlighting the challenges women face trying to fulfill family responsibilities while advancing their careers. They espouse solutions many academicians, journalists, and writers raised in the past. They usually boil down to two ideas:

  • Government should subsidize high-quality childcare because it is a public good.
  • Employers should stop assuming that the best employees are those give more weight to "work" than to "life" on the balance scale or make life fit around work because in the long run providing family-friendly benefits and expanding diversity will make their organizations more successful.
  • I began graduate school hoping to start up employer-supported childcare centers. Soon thereafter, I realized it would be difficult to provide care that is both high quality and affordable without major systemic shifts in government policy and employer mindset.

    Hoping to find answers, I decided to switch gears and go into research instead. When I became a parent, however, I realized there was no silver bullet, no simple way to juggle career and family. Research findings, based on aggregate information, can help identify trends and tendencies. But they rarely provide practical solutions for individuals and their particular circumstances.

    Since starting my practice,, in 2008, I've worked closely with my coaching clients to find customized solutions to these issues. Through this work, I've learned that striving for "balance" is not the answer for reasons I've written about here but mainly because it's just too vague a concept.

    What does work is making four key shifts in your daily thoughts and actions:

    1. Rather than thinking, "I'm not doing enough," concentrate on a few things, then focus your time and energy on what you're doing when you're doing it.

  • Rather than believing "I'm not good enough," gain confidence by studying what is going right, then focus on growth rather than a specific end result.
  • Instead of saying, "I need to do this alone," connect with people who inspire you as well as those who could use your help.
  • Rather than deciding, "I'll never be satisfied/happy," calm your mind and heart every day ... even if just for a moment and even when your challenges seem insurmountable.
  • The way you execute each shift will depend largely on your own circumstances, resources, and values. Whether you're one of two employed adults in a family, a single woman with no children who is caring for an elderly aunt, or a longtime stay-at-home mom looking for paid employment, put effort into making these four changes.
  • Attempting to change long-held organizational policies and cultural values are worthwhile long-term goals. But responding to demands and responsibilities, nurturing relationships, and pursuing passions requires daily navigation. It isn't always easy but it is more manageable than searching for "work-life balance."

    [A version of this article with links for further reading can be found at]

    Stacy S. Kim, Ph.D. is the author of The Lighthouse Method: How Busy, Overloaded Moms Can get Unstuck and Figure Out What To Do With Their Lives. She is a certified life and career coach helping high-achieving, deeply caring women and parents balance their ambitions, passions, and energy for the people they love. You can find her at and follow her on Twitter: @stacyskim