I've been thinking about a phrase that I hear quite frequently: "work-life balance." The phrase comes up most often when people are taxed beyond their abilities by their job and looking to gain some amount of reprieve from the constant demand of work pressures. While some are on a mission to achieve it in some Quixote-esque quest, others swear that it's a myth of a bygone generation.
It would be presumptuous of me to say that I've experienced the nirvana state of work-life balance, but it's something that I chased after from time to time. For fleeting moments I've felt that both my work and non-work lives are both somewhat healthy and satisfying. It rarely lasts, however, as something inevitably occurs that throws things out of whack. In addition to my own struggles, I've noticed that other people are always making their own shifts and alterations to their priorities. As a result, I've developed a metaphor that has helped me put things in some measure of perspective.
Picture If You Will…
…one of those tool wall peg boards laid flat on a table. Pick a point in the center, and then put a short length of dowel several holes out from the center on each axis. When you're done, you'll have your center point, plus one peg each on the north, east, south, and west axes. Next, go intro your refrigerator and grab one of those rubber bands off the heads of broccoli that you have in there. Stretch the rubber band around the four pegs.
Hopefully you have a mental picture of that odd contraption now. In this metaphor, each axis is a thing that takes a portion of your time and energy. Your professional life is to the north, personal relationships to the south. Interests to the west, obligations to the east. This is how it plays out: say for example that you have a lot of professional demands on your time. Move that peg up one or two from the center. The rubber band probably stretches to accommodate. Next, say that you land that big client but need to put in some extra time to make them happy. You can move the peg up a couple more, but the rubber band might not stretch. So you move the some configuration of the other pegs in towards the center to give you more wiggle room. As your demands and performance expand north, the other aspects of your life begin to contract. Ultimately you can only reconfigure the pegs so much, and you have a limit to the amount of things that you can handle. Our time and energy are finite after all.
I find this metaphor more appealing than the way that people typically talk about the binary work-life relationship for a few reasons. First off, it exposes the connectedness of the other aspects of our lives. Second, it allows for a certain amount of flexibility and give. We've all gone through those times in our lives what something was all consuming, so we know that sometimes everything else has to give for a while. Lastly, I like that the flexibility of the band gets less and less as the distance between pegs becomes more extreme. This really mirrors the tension that often arrises when our live become filled with so many things that we find it hard to cope.
The Work Relationship Interest Obligation Stretch
The more I chase after it, the more that I think that the work-life balance is a myth. I do recognize that I go through periods of heightened professional demands or of focusing intensely on personal relationships. It's not always easy to recognize that I'm making the choice to focus my life in these ways and that other aspects will suffer accordingly, but it's something that I'm working on acknowledging.
What have your struggles been like to achieve some level of balance? I'd be interesting in hearing your thoughts, so drop a line.