There is this certain notion that permeates our society and I find it to be both particularly destructive and, well, totally wrong. That notion is this: work and life are separate things and we must work tirelessly at achieving balance between them in order to lead happy, productive, and worthy lives.
Whenever this topic is broached, it’s always done by stating that there is Work and there is Life – the discussion therefore begins by stating the assumption, like it’s a given or universal truth, that work and life separate things entirely. That each person will have these two plates to juggle and balance and that achieving that balance? It’s hard. But it is important – vital! – to your happiness. Your worthiness. Your completeness.
They tell us all of this before we are adults. Before we have jobs, spouses, and children. Many of us go into our adult lives believing that you can’t have it all! It’s like they take the hope away before we have a chance to dream and form an idea of what balance and happiness can look like in our minds. Before we have a concept of what “it all” may even be. Whatever it is, we can’t have it but we’ll desperately want it.
I am most familiar with how all of this feels in my role as a mother. I’ve noticed the comments such as “it must be so hard!” and “how do you do it?!” and “wow, I respect that so much.” that get lobbed my way since I am a woman who works and also has children. You should hear the amazement in people’s voice when they ask “How do you do it?”. I pray my daughter never hears that. Ever. And btw, I only mention my daughter here because when was the last time you heard someone ask this question of a man? Oh, that’s right… never.
How do I do it?!
You know what? This idea never felt right to me and I’m calling it – it’s crap! Why is it crap? Well, I’d love to tell you some more of my thoughts.
I believe that work and life are not separate. Work and life are life. Work can mean a job, or struggle, or the path to progress. It can mean so many things. Life? It’s what we live. It’s all of it. It’s the moments, the connections, the unity… it’s exploration and challenge. It’s joy and sadness. It’s work and free time. It’s reading and writing. It’s poetry and music. It’s friends and family. It’s everything.
You do not need to achieve balance between work and life per se, but rather, you need to create a life that feels balanced to you. It will feel balanced when you feel fulfilled and content. When you feel good. When you love it. When you’re passionate about it. Not about a tiny part of it, but all of it. Build a life you’re in love with. And it may only feel this way for a few minutes or so a day, longer on some days, shorter on others. It fluctuates. But that’s ok! It’s life! It’s your adventure!
You see, I have 2 kids who I am madly in love with, a job I enjoy, and many other things in my life that I am enjoying and working on and discovering. Life is super multi-facetted. It’s big and sometimes complicated. But it’s my life. I chose it. I’m working on it. I’m happy with it.
When I listened to people about this work/life balance thing I became stressed. This notion that my home life with my amazing kids was threatened by my work life with a job I love? That loving my job meant I was cheating on my kids somehow? Or that by spending extra time focused 100% on the little ones, I was letting the ball slip at the office? It sucked! It was a constant game of picking which thing that I valued and loved more today, and in doing so, admitting something else was less important in that moment. Deciding which side of my world had to sit second chair and and have its happiness be sacrificed. The guilt… Ugh.
And then, in 2010 I came across this quote by Steve Jobs:
The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.
That quote spoke to me. It shifted my perspective to where I knew it should be. Not on achieving this mythical balance, but on seeing my life for what it really is: my life. My 1, amazing life! Steve Jobs knew what he was talking about. The only way to do great things in your LIFE is to LOVE what you do. And me? I wanted to do great things with my life. In fact, I feel as though I am doing great things.
I love my kids. Love is an understatement here. I am head-over-heels-crazy-in-love with my kids. I love, respect, and admire my family and my friends. I am passionate about my job and I totally dig that I get to do a job I enjoy along side such amazing people. People who I count among some of my best friends that I have made in my adult life. People I trust and respect not just as coworkers, but as people. As friends. As family. I never feel like I’m settling in life, and so there’s never a choice and I’m not freaking out over the concept of achieving any balance. My life? I love it. I enjoy it. I am passionate about it.
Sure, when you have kids (as I found out) there is some shuffling that takes place. 24 hours in a day and all that. But I’m happy, my kids are happy and loved. Life? It’s amazing! I feel fulfilled. When people say that you will inevitably struggle to achieve balance between work and life they do something that really just hurts: they plant seeds of doubt. They deprive people of hope by perpetuating this sort of a lie. Yes – you may struggle. We all do. But your life? That’s up to you. And your balance? That’s something unique to the people and circumstances involved. It looks different to everyone.
My kids will never hear stories about my lack of balance or how having them made my job/career suffer. They’ll hear about the amazing people I met and things I did. They’ll be a part of that. They’ll know that they did not compete for my attention with my phone and my email. They’ll know that they were important and loved. They’ll also know that their mom loved her job and worked hard, but they won’t feel as though my job was more or less important than them. They’ll see it as what it is: another thing in my life. Not a competitor. In some ways, an enabler. And my job? It benefits from my motherhood experiences. 1 word: patience. My friends and coworkers will know I’m a mom and a friend and an employee. That I try and excel at them all. That I love them all, but I love my kids more and that because of this they may, on occasion, hear my children’s voices if they call during off-hours – and I will not ask my kids to pipe down. They may see them in the background on Skype on a snow day – and that? It’s ok. Great, even! My life isn’t a bunch of segments – life and work and kids and friends – it’s a whole. A messy, wonderful, amazing, challenging, rewarding whole. And I love it.
So if you’re talking to people or struggling with this notion of balance in your life, please take a step back and consider that maybe things are actually amazing just as they are. Yes, maybe they could use one change. But maybe, just maybe, that change is just a shift in your perception.