The great quest of our life seems to be to find balance. We crave a sense of stability in our relationships between home and work, career and children, material desires and spirituality. Despite talking about it, bemoaning its absence, reading books, attending workshops, getting coaching, balance remains elusive. But we keep searching for we believe that when we find it, we will be at peace at last.
I remember as a child romping on a massive seesaw in our front yard. It was about 16 feet long and made of a plank of Guyanese greenheart, one of the strongest and most durable types of wood. It was great sport to straddle the middle, with my sister and cousins on either side, trying to keep both sides in equilibrium. It was difficult, requiring such concentration, such skill, that I would soon jump off and get to the more boisterous activity of bouncing the seesaw up and down.
I think of the seesaw every time I hear "work/life" balance. Balance is defined as a state of equilibrium, which itself is defined as "a state of rest or balance due to the equal action of opposing forces" (www.dictionary.com). Therein lies the rub - in trying to achieve work/life balance, we are actually viewing them as opposing forces, when indeed work is a part of life.
Trying to balance work and life suggests that there is work over here and life over there with a huge chasm of stress in between. There's a separation and we are constantly pulled from one to the other. In time-bound jobs where we clock in and out and are paid by the hour for our time, it is easy, in theory, to balance work and life - work starts at 9.00 a.m. and ends at 5.00 p.m. and life starts at 5.00 p.m. and ends at 9.00 a.m. However, in practice it doesn't work this way. And it seems to get worse when we move into positions of leadership when our work is not tracked by time but by results, issues of "work/life" balance loom monster-like.
Balance is a momentary thing: like playing on a child's seesaw the joy is in the up and down, not the moment when we are perfectly balanced. We are doomed to failure if what we are searching for is a fleeting momentary thing because the moment we find it, it's gone.
So when we speak of "work/life balance", what we really want is that over time work does not overshadow our other priorities such as family, friends, health and service. We attain this by creating a life that is complete with work as an integral part of it and not separate from it. Here are 3 ways to start this shift, remembering that it is a process of breaking long-ingrained habits and beliefs:
1. Cease speaking about "work/life balance." View work as part of your life and explore how work, and all other aspects support and are in alignment with each other.
2. Slow down and be present. Yes, I know this sounds "New Agey", but more and more we see mindfulness entering the corporate milieu, an indication of our willingness to break from the dysfunctional "old age" and try different approaches and techniques. So when you are doing non-work activities, be present fully to those. Start with just one small thing, like no chatting on your mobile while exercising, or giving your full attention to the next person with whom you interact.
3. Consider the role that work plays in your life, not just as a source of financial means to provide for your family, but also as your way of adding value to humanity. But be warned - this contemplation may become uncomfortable if it turns out that your work is not satisfying to you!
In reading a book written by a medical doctor recently I was reminded that the word "stasis" refers to a state of equilibrium and stagnation. In the field of medicine, stasis means the stoppage of normal flows of bodily substances such as blood. Stasis may lead to death. This really stumped me, as I had not associated being balanced with stagnation. But observing my own life, no breakthroughs occurred when my life was relatively balanced - they all happened when my life was a bit unstable - whether times of delirious joy or plummeting depths. So my question to you - could achieving "balance" really stymie our growth?
Like a child on a seesaw let us stop trying to find balance. Free ourselves from the concentration, focus and stress needed to stay in equilibrium. Enjoy the ups and downs, not the static moments when we are so focused on getting things in balance that we view our work as separate from the rest of our lives. Instead explore living in a state of disequilibrium - for perhaps therein lies our greatest growth.
Enjoy the discomfort of feeling unbalanced!