Work-life balance on a tightrope

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May 17, 2021

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We idealize work-life balance as a state of equilibrium. It is not. It is a constant exercise and, like any exercise, it requires effort. When we look at a tightrope walker, for example,  we see more than equilibrium; we see someone engaging core and leg muscles, sweating, and swinging their arms. The tightrope walker may even have some gear for support.

With this image in mind, we accept what we already know from experience: maintaining work-life balance is challenging. It is tiresome; sometimes we give and often we feel like we are one movement away from losing it. I’ve met many people who think that they are “bad” at maintaining work-life balance just because it feels difficult. But when we see it as physical exercise, then the effort and sweating are part of doing it “right.”

Like the exercise of any muscle, it builds up over time. When we think back two, five, or ten years, we can probably see that today we are juggling more things. We have tried different tips (meditation, journaling, a thousand different ways of organizing our planners). Perhaps we have fully incorporated some work-life balance strategies, while others are on the back-burner for emergencies, and others never quite worked out. 

Like any muscle, it also needs to rest. When we accept that maintaining work-life balance is challenging and taxing, we realize that sometimes we need to get off the tightrope and chill. For some, rest looks like giving in to a late night with Netflix. For others, rest looks like powering through a work assignment at the expense of time with family and friends. Getting off the work-life balance tightrope every now and then is OK.

Being out of balance for an extended period of time, however, can be detrimental to both our work and life. One common misconception is that losing balance in one area favors the other. If we “fall” toward work, our work thrives. If we “fall” toward life, our relationships and health thrive. I don’t find this to be the case. When we are off balance for an extended period of time, no part of our life wins. 

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