There are essentially three big myths that can also be pointed out as the three big reasons why so many work-life balance attempts and interventions fail. I remember the first time I came across this topic: it was in a work psychology lecture, while I was doing my masters. I was glad to see that such concept was actually something that we were already taking care of in the workplace but I also had the feeling that there was still much to do, because even though we all dream about managing work and life successfully the truth is that the majority of us struggle to make it happen.
I was one of those people for almost my entire life. Curiously enough I think I reached a point in which I either had to change my lifestyle or I simply could not keep teaching my students about stress and work-life balance, because I felt like such an impostor and a failure myself. Moreover, I actually started thinking that it was impossible to have work-life balance, and in fact that is partially true. Work-life balance makes us think that there must be an optimal point between work and life, a point which must be universal and the same for everyone. That’s exactly when our management efforts start to make us feel worse instead of inspiring us to integrate two of the most important dimensions of our human existence.
Let me explain it in more detail: thinking there is an “ideal” that we must achieve sets us immediately for failure. There is no ideal balance between work and life, because each one of us are different and each one of us has different aspirations. We can’t simply apply a mathematical equation to calculate how much work-life balance we have or how much we are missing, especially when our own aspirations change through time and the context we are in at the moment. To make it clearer, let me give you what seems to be the three big myths behind work-life balance:
1. Balance does not exist
In an ideal world, we would be able to distribute our time equally between work and life. In the real world though that is not always possible, since work and life demands change often and require us to be flexible. To be flexible means that we try out best to interplay work and life mindfully, minimising any negative spill over from and toward both dimensions. We need to fit work and life interchangeably.
2. Success can be defined in many ways
Many people look at their work and life as two things that simply happen and that they must bare with. When we think about how can we be successful at work and in our life, we immediately ignite something inside us, something that inspires us to be, do and pursue a better version of ourselves. There are many ways to define success and no one’s definition will be helpful to you. You must find your own success definition in what regards work and your own life. It must be personal, so it can make you wake up everyday with that feeling of wanting to go through another day and seek out opportunities.
3. You are the one behind the wheel, not your work nor your life
When we get too attached to either our work or our life issues, it is very easy to become unfocused, lost and with the sense of not being able to change anything. In other words, it is rather easy to get caught up by work and life, if you think that you are powerless over the decisions you have to make. Assume the wheel: work and life are supposed to inspire you, not drain you. In fact, you are supposed to take the wheel and drive as smoothly and as mindfully as you can, so you can make decisions that are aligned with your personal and professional definition of success.
In sum, it makes more sense to talk about work-life fitness than work-life balance. While balance predisposes us to strive for an equal effort to manage both work and life, fitness primes us with the idea that there is actually an interplay between work and life, which must be driven by our needs, goals and preferences. It leads us to accomplish and achieve change rather than aim for a neutral and comfortable position.