Why I Don’t Believe in Work/Life Balance March 27 2012

We hear a lot these days about achieving work/life balance. I’m here to tell you that in an age of doing more with less –  or in some cases, less with less –  work/life balance is a myth. If you’re a leader in a demanding job, you’re about as likely to find it as you are a purple unicorn.  And I don’t believe in purple unicorns.

When people talk about work/life balance, I think of the Flying Wallendas, whose members tempt fate by walking a tightrope suspended across Niagara Falls or between buildings high above the earth. They have balance, hopefully, for a few brief moments in time. When they make it to the other side, that experience of balance ends.

The quest for work/life balance is a little bit like that. You might experience it ever so briefly and then it ends. Like the Flying Wallendas, it might be months or years before you experience that feeling of balance again.

So, that’s the reality I’m offering. Is there any hope? I think there is.

Instead of chasing that purple unicorn of work/life balance, what if you thought about it as establishing a work/life rhythm? That works for me and a lot of my clients. By seeking a rhythm, you acknowledge there are times when the pace is much more oriented to work and there are the times when the counterpoints of the other aspects of your life come to the fore. Shifting from the mindset of balance to the mindset of rhythm allows you to take the pressure off. You have permission to quit seeking that holy grail of perfect balance.

Instead, you recognize all of the factors that come together to create the rhythm of your life – your life at work, your life at home, your life in your community. You identify and act on the simple routines that support the outcomes you’re looking for in those three arenas of life. They’re the routines that keep you physically strong, mentally acute, relationally healthy and spiritually grounded.

You then give yourself permission to not try to do all of that at once. You understand that some days or weeks are more about work and then home comes back around. You may miss a workout or have to postpone that lunch but when you make it up you’re fully present and in the moment. When you allow your rhythm to shift from one important element of your life to the other you can enjoy it for what it is and can get off that tightrope called work/life balance.

What do you think? Is it possible to achieve balance or is it more about establishing a rhythm? Or is it something else? What’s working for you?

Which concept works better for you:

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24 Responses to “Why I Don’t Believe in Work/Life Balance”

  1. louiscollinsblog says:

    I like this concept and I can see how it may be a better way of looking at things for many people. Of course getting the "right" rhythm may prove as elusive as getting the "right" balance – so perhaps we need to ask questions of what it is that people view as being "right"?

  2. shubha says:

    Hi Scott,
    This might interest you: http://www.salary.com/work-and-home-no-longer-bal

  3. Victoria says:

    In the book "the working mother's manifesto" by Carol Evans, the author refers to this as the MERGING of work & life…that has always worked for me.

  4. Really like this concept. Thinking of life as a work/rest rhythm makes it less about just balancing and more about taking work and life as they come… making adequate time for both.

  5. Vickie Brown says:

    This is great thinking – and the biggest challenge many of us will find is our own personalities. Type A, motivated and driven, do-it-all types have a hard time letting themselves off the hook for anything. I have learned about the work-life "rhythm" because personal crises have forced me to refocus away from work from time to time. I don't wish that on anyone – but even if we learn the lesson the hard way, it's worth learning.

  6. I think about time investment. Is this a good investment of my time.
    Sometimes work is a worthy investment to reach a family goal. Or relationship investment is priority and a healthy choice. We can’t achieve perfection on this world but it’s possible in the next.. But that’s a different topic! Thanks for posting, more ppl need to reflect on this. From a kiwi muso on an overloaded train in Melbourne

  7. frankgebhardt says:

    Good post Scott! I personally call it work / life balance and I agree it's give and take. Some days I need more time to get things completed at work and some days I go some private stuff during work hours. I believe it is important that you be yourself and in tune what you do in every moment of your life. thanks for posting :)

  8. @JozuaVelle says:

    Nice to find a name for the way I try to live my life (work/life rhythm even sounds good :-) ). Challenge remains to make sure that there is some tempo in the rhythm. The shift between all aspects of your life should happen frequently.

  9. PM Hut says:

    Hi Scott,

    I was never, ever able to achieve a work life balance. Nor do I know of a project manager who was able to do this. It's either you are working or you are living, never both, at least for PM's.

  10. @mikemyatt says:

    Hi Scott:

    I appreciate what you stated about rhythms vs balance. I tend to take a bit of a different perspective though – more than rhythm or balance I believe the issue is one of prioritization. I wrote about this in my column on Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikemyatt/2012/01/27/

    Hope all is well Scott…

  11. Your concept of a work/life rhythm seems to fit on a practical level. As I've come to understand work/life balance, there does seem to be a back and forth of where one spends one's time and energy. My perspective is more that work and life have to be integrated. No matter if the our organizations expect us to respond immediately or not, humans are not designed to be attentive 24/7. And there has to be a question about what we are willing to lose. Are we willing to lose our health, our spouses, our children and/or our selves? Perhaps my notion of integrating work and life parallels your work/life rhythm. Being able to perform well and relax well has to be built in. Like Mike Myatt's point about prioritization, there has to be an acknowledgement that "now I want to focus on Task X" or "I'm taking 15 minutes to step outside and walk around". This is integration. There are times when we have to focus more on work or home due to obligations. The bottom line is how we integrate each area during our days, weeks and beyond.

  12. bhuwanchand says:

    Do not despair or lose hope by momentary setbacks. Do not stop trusting if you are unable to succeed in the pursuit of perfection. If most mountaineers fail to reach the top of K2 that does not mean it is not existing. The quality parameters are harder to achieve the better one becomes. I can go on and on and rant endlessly on this but the bottom line is where will we be without the impossible to reach idol targets in life. We will continue to live at the bottom of the pit if believe that everything outside the pit is a myth. At least in the search of that allusive shangri-la, people do able to reach Tibet and watch the beauty of Himalayas.
    Most of the frogs do spend their life within a well, only a few crazy one's get out and see the rivers and oceans. Its not the goal, its the journey that is more important. The more allusive the goal, the more fun it would be to chase it.

  13. Relevant discussion in a time when work never seems to stop. I think whatever the semantics, it is about asking how you want to live your life and what is not negotiable. That requires intentional, purposeful and hard self-reflection. In the end, what is it worth to you to have that balance, satisfaction or rhythm in your life?

    Wishing everyone joy and productivity! Sunitha Narayanan

  14. Jay says:

    I agree. Time mgmt. tools can help to prioritize; yet it takes more to work & LIVE in Harmony. A ongoing versatile 'Rhythm' is part of 'Adding Music to One's Life' — as are Pace/Tempo & Melody. I offer this as 'WELL'. http://www.resultsazwell.com

  15. Greetings everyone and thanks for the insights and observations you've shared. I've learned a lot from you in the past couple of days!

  16. Paul Foster says:

    Confusion say : “He who chases two rabbits, catches neither”. I therefore agree that “balance” implies chasing two rabbits at once. Much better to get a good rythm going in pursuit of the work rabbit, and then be focussed and passionate at relaxing after you catch it.

  17. @DeborahGF says:

    Rhythm matters in life and work and between the two, but let me also offer my favorite balance metaphor, which is the bicycle. A bike is only balanced when in motion, and it has its own rhythm of pedaling which is the source of its results

  18. Diane Blakey says:

    A fellow coach I know uses the analogy of a lava lamp when addressing the work/life balance myth, as a way of thinking about the continual shifting of our attention and energy.

  19. Roger says:

    Scott

    I like your concept but I am not ready to give up on work/life balance. I somehow see the work/life rhythm as a middle ground, a safe haven for those who maybe cannot bring themselves to make some hard choices.

  20. Mr. K says:

    Once you get a balance..then you make it a rhythm.

  21. Hi, Scott!

    I agree with you…sort of. When the issue comes up with the executives and leaders I coach, we explore the myth of work/life balance…that it sets us up to fail, because balance means both parts are exactly equal. That's silly, none of us works 12 hours and lives 12 hours. If that's the goal, we are set up to fail. Instead we look at Work/Life Blend …which is a customized blend that each individual needs to create for him or herself…what is the ideal blend for YOU? What is the ideal blend TODAY? I worry that the term rhythm implies a pattern, and with all the competing commitments I see not only in my life, but in my coaching clients' lives, I fear that getting a rhythm/ pattern is almost as difficult to achieve as balance.

    Love the dialogue here!

  22. Hello Scott. I believe that work/life balance is not only a myth, but a energy-draining concept directly opposed to well-being. As Suzi writes, balance means both parts exactly the same. I use the analogy of a set of scales. When you add to one side, the other side tips out of balance. The energy that is required to continually 'try' to achieve balance could be used more efficiently and effectively to add value to life. I prefer to focus on an "integrated life" which addresses gains and losses. This concept has been particularly helpful in coping with loss. I wrote about this topic July 2008 http://www.maestroquality.com/2008/07/29/stop-the-balanc...

    Every now and then, we are sold a bill-of-goods that is detrimental to our well-being – socially and spiritually. Thank you for bringing this topic to a wider discussion.

  23. Happy Hoops says:

    certainly takes the pressure off of having to be all things, at all times, to all people.

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