Do you ever wonder why work life balance feels so unreachable? You keep doing all the things you’re supposed to do, yet. . . nothing seems to change (and you’re still searching for more balance in life). There’s a reason – and it’s not your fault. Hint: the problem is the work life balance definition that you’re using.
The problem is the standard work life balance definition. It’s unworkable. Which leads to the question… what is work life balance, really?
If you want a real work life balance solution, then you need an accurate definition (because that’s what serves as your blueprint for how to achieve it). It’s time to redefine what work life balance means to you so that it’s tailored specifically to your life, dreams, and ambitions while also addressing the reasons behind why you crave more balance in life.
To help you define your work life balance definition your way, I’ve included a free resource below that will get you started (so be sure you download it).
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Five Common Work Life Balance Myths that Are Causing You to Struggle
When it comes to rethinking and redefining work life balance, it’s important to be clear about what work life balance isn’t. And that means tackling some common work life balance myths.
Here are 5 work life balance myths that are making it hard for you to achieve a balanced life:
Myth #1: Work Life Balance Is About Balancing Work vs. the Rest of Your Life
Work life balance often creates images of a see-saw, where you’re trying (unsuccessfully) to get the two sides to a place of equilibrium. There are 3 things wrong with this way of thinking:
1. It’s not about balance.
It’s not possible to equalize how much time and energy you put towards work versus everything else. EVER (no matter what stage of life you’re in or where most of your time is going). That’s not how life works.
The problem is that society’s near-constant obsession on time makes it hard not to think of it this way. You’ve become accustomed to trying to manage your time, be productive with your time, and even be flexible in the time you have. That constant focus on time creates a fixation on how much time you spend doing things.
Eventually, that forces you to start comparing the amount of time you spend working versus. . . playing with your kids, bonding with your spouse, or even taking time out for yourself. This pits your professional life against your personal life (and puts them in conflict with one another). And that’s a losing battle you’ll never win!
2. You can’t separate your life into 2 distinct categories.
Work is part of your life, yet it’s often treated as though it’s separate from your “real” life. But let me ask you…
- When something goes wrong at work, does it often affect your behavior, stress levels, and relationships at home?
- Does what’s going on in your personal life ever affect your work performance?
Of course! You can’t separate the two. And honestly, there’s more to your life than just work and other.
Work includes your work relationships, how fulfilled you are by it, and how you’re treated by your employer (among other things). And the rest of your life is robust and complex – it can’t all be fit into one category.
3. Trade-offs aren’t inherently bad (but are necessary).
The traditional definition of work life balance presumes that it’s either/or. But that doesn’t make sense. Life is complicated and integrated. it’s more like a spider web than a see-saw!
When you prioritize work, that doesn’t mean that the rest of your life must be ignored (and vice versa). And priorities change over time (you might prioritize work one day and family the next).
Besides, just because there’s a trade-off doesn’t make it inherently bad. Life is about trade-offs.
The big problem with this is that it pits work against the rest of your life, causing an internal battle that you’ll never win. This internal struggle is what causes guilt and shame around working (especially for those of us who want to work and want to succeed in what we do).
Here’s the thing: you likely chose your career or profession for a REASON, and there’s meaning in that. Stop discounting the part of you that wants to work. It’s creating an unconscious presumption that career success is bad (and it’s not). You’re a whole person and it’s okay to want to succeed in your career.
What’s the answer to all this? Drop the balancing act.
Myth #2: Work Life Balance Is About Time
There’s not enough time in the day/week/year… right?
The current work life balance discussion presumes that time is the biggest issue. That’s why most of the so-called solutions relate to it. You’re supposed to manage it, be productive with it, and be flexible with it.
Our culture is obsessed with time. And most people are convinced that they’ll be happier, more productive, and more balanced if they just had a bit more of it. But is that really true?
Here’s the thing about time: it’s the one thing everyone has an equal amount of. And, although most people haven’t figured out how to find balance, there are those that have (and are quite successful too).
What do they know that everyone else keeps missing?
It’s not about how much time you have but about how you choose to spend your time.
Myth #3: People Who Want a Balanced Lifestyle Aren’t Motivated to Succeed
During my 18-year legal career I saw many women (and some men) receive “black marks” at the first mention of balance. Many people seem to believe that it’s code for not wanting to work hard and/or not wanting to go as far in your career.
But in my experience, that’s hogwash. After mentoring fellow attorneys for years and now in my coaching, I’ve learned that most men and women who desire a balanced life also want career success. They just don’t want success that requires them to sacrifice their health or personal relationships.
They want their success to be sustainable and enjoyable. And I’ve got to tell you, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Myth #4: Work Boundaries Will Hurt Your Career
Boundaries in life are necessary. And that includes at work (especially if you want to be successful).
Time isn’t endless, and you need to ensure you have enough time:
- To get work priorities done;
- For physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual renewal; and
- For family and personal priorities.
Too many professionals are afraid to create strong boundaries at work. But that’s often because they don’t understand the proper role for boundaries.
Boundaries are for the purpose of ensuring you have time and space for your priorities – both at work and in your personal life. They’ll make you more likely to succeed (not less).
Boundaries Mean More Success
As a baby lawyer I was deathly afraid to set any boundaries. I believed that saying yes to everything was the way to achieve more and succeed. And I worried that if I said no to anyone (especially the senior associates and partners I worked for), they wouldn’t respect me or continue to give me work.
Unfortunately, this led to 90+ hour work weeks and very little sleep (I could count on one hand the number of days I hadn’t worked over the course of a year – including weekends and holidays).
After forgetting an important deadline and messing up on a research project (in the same week), I realized that I was being stretched too thin and had to start saying no to people. Otherwise, I would burn out completely (and my work product would get even worse).
Interestingly, my career quickly took off after I did that. People respected me more because they knew that if I said yes I was committed and would turn in great work.
[Recommended Reading: How To Say No Without Feeling Guilt (Step-By-Step Instructions)]
Myth #5: Work Life Balance Is One-Size Fits All
Another misconception about work-life balance is the idea that it’s about not working more than a certain number of hours per week, limiting weekend and evening work, having a flexible schedule, and so on. It’s a one-size, incomplete definition!
You and your life are unique. Your circumstances, what you want out of your career, what brings you fulfillment, how you relate to loved ones, and so on – all are specific to you and you alone.
It’s time to take that into account when defining what work life balance is. This means that work life balance is more of a framework, to be defined by and tailored to each individual’s desires and life circumstances.
Note that your definition of work life balance will change over time. That’s why you need to have a more strategic approach to figuring out what work life balance really is – and a definition that follows a flexible framework (so that you can easily revise your work life balance definition as you progress into new stages of your career and life).
The Common Work Life Balance Definition Leads to False Choices
The traditional way of thinking about what work life balance means ends up giving you two choices: (1) give up your career ambitions, or (2) let go of having a balanced lifestyle. Unfortunately, neither of these choices is satisfactory.
The people who go with option #1 often end up resentful and full of regrets. And those who go with option #2 end up overworked, overwhelmed, and stressed out – which isn’t sustainable (or healthy). A high-stress lifestyle leads to a host of bad habits and behaviors such as:
- Sleeping too little (and waking often);
- Regularly skipping meals;
- Unhealthy coping behaviors such as using alcohol, food, and drugs; and
- Putting self-care last (which usually means it’s rare).
All of this has a huge ripple effect on your physical, mental, and spiritual health (and leads to numerous negative physiological and psychological health consequences).
The Good News: There’s a Better Way.
What you need is to let go of the myths noted above and rethink work life balance. Tailor it to YOU (your life, your needs, your values, and your vision for what you want).
How? First, understand the reasons behind why you feel out-of-balance in the first place (so you can adequately address them). Next, redefine work life balance so that it works for you. Finally, take action.
5 Common Reasons for Poor Work Life Balance
What is work life balance (if not about time or equilibrium)?
Through my 13+ years of mentoring and coaching fellow attorneys and other professionals around work life balance, I’ve discovered five underlying reasons that cause people to feel like they have no work life balance:
#1: You Feel Unfulfilled
Not feeling fulfilled is the #1 complaint I hear from highly stressed professionals who want more balance in their lives. And I’ve always found that interesting (since it seemingly has little to do with being balanced).
Here’s how that typically looks:
- Having lost sight of what you’re passionate about.
- Feeling unmotivated (this might be you if you hit snooze 5+ times most mornings, dreading the day ahead).
- Thinking there’s got to be more to life.
- Feeling like you have no direction in life (and stuck).
#2: You’re Trying To Do and Have It All
One of the silent causes for not feeling balanced in life is trying to do and have “it all”. I’ve found that this is particularly strong in women. Unfortunately, it’s not possible.
When you try to live this way, you end up:
- feeling out of control;
- chronically stressed and overwhelmed; and
- without much energy in the morning and drained at the end of the day.
Go long enough and you’ll end up in the unfulfilled category too.
[Recommended Reading: For more about why you don’t want to live a do it all/have it all life, read You’re Not Superwoman (or Superman) and You Can’t Have or Do it All – and That’s Okay.]
#3: You’re Living a Life of Shoulds
Do you often do what’s expected of you and go after what you think you should (as opposed to what you really want)? That’s living a life of shoulds.
Living your life this way leads to:
- Uncertainty about whether you’re making the right decisions (followed by constant second-guessing).
- Feeling like you have no control.
- Being resentful.
This often leads to trying to do and have it all (because you’ll try to fit in what you want in addition to all that other stuff too). Since that isn’t sustainable, the end-result is dropping your priorities and eventually losing sight of them (making you unfulfilled too!).
#4: You Prioritize Everything (or Most Things)
So many professionals try to prioritize virtually everything. And if this is you, please understand that when you prioritize everything you’re prioritizing nothing. Not prioritizing properly leads to:
- Always feeling like you’re fighting fires;
- Chronic stress and overwhelm;
- Having no time for yourself (and very little self-care); and
- Feeling like you’re working hard yet getting little of importance done.
Prioritization is a necessary component of achieving work life balance. And if you’re not prioritizing properly, then it’s difficult to have any control over your life (and hence impossible to find balance).
[Recommended Reading: How to Prioritize Like A Pro So You Can Focus on What Really Matters].
#5: You Have Weak (or No) Boundaries
Do you say yes to just about everyone and everything (except to yourself, of course)? Often there’s guilt around saying no or a misguided belief that saying yes is required for success (I find that many lawyers believe this).
Here’s the thing: always saying yes to others means that you’re constantly saying no to yourself. And that leads to:
- Resentment that you’re prioritizing everyone’s priorities over your own;
- Little to no self-care, which (of course!) leads to increased stress, low energy, and even guilt around not taking proper care of yourself; and
- Feeling drained by life.
Plus, it also leaves you with little time to do the things that matter most (for yourself, your family, and your career).
How To Redefine Your Work Life Balance Definition
Notice how none of the common complaints identified above is solved through better time management, a more flexible work schedule, or more productivity strategies? [Note: prioritization isn’t a productivity strategy – it’s something that must come into play before you can properly use productivity strategies].
None of these so-called solutions address the underlying reasons why you feel overwhelmed and out of control. Note: I’m not saying there’s no place for them. But they’re merely tools that can only help after you’ve created a customized work life balance definition.
In looking at the most common complaints, there are three big themes that can be identified (what I like to call the 3 P’s): PURPOSE in life, PEACE of mind, and PROSPERITY of time, energy, and spirit.
Understanding each one (and what they mean to you) are what determine your specific work life balance definition.
Purpose: What It Really Means
Work life balance includes fulfillment, meaning, and purpose. If you don’t feel like your life has meaning or believe that you’re not making an impact, then you’ll feel off (and hence not balanced).
Most people I know get uncomfortable when asked what their purpose is. If that’s you I have good news. . . Purpose isn’t as hard to figure out or as heavy as it sounds. And it rarely requires big changes to your life (and doesn’t require that you start over).
You derive purpose from your life by:
- Aligning your behavior and decisions with your core values.
- Utilizing your unique strengths, talents, and skills in service to others, in a way that you enjoy.
- Connecting with people – on a deep level.
There’s a misconception that finding your purpose is about finding your one, true purpose or passion. But for most of us, there’s no such thing!
You’re a human being who’s designed to grow and learn over time. Circumstances change. Your life experiences and circumstances influence and affect you. And that means that you change over time!
Besides, it’s not so much about finding your purpose as connecting to what makes you who you are (on the inside) and then using that to connect with others and serve others to the best of your ability.
And that brings us to your values…
If you want to feel more fulfilled, you need to know your core values.
Your core values are your inner compass in life. They color how you see the world and your place in it. They’re what make you YOU!
If you’re not sure what your values are, that’s okay. Most people don’t have a good understanding of their values. After all, it’s not like we learn this stuff in school. The good news is that they’re in there – and your subconscious knows what they are already.
All you need is a way to reconnect to them. Luckily, I have a free resource to help you do exactly that.
Download the Inner Compass Values Assessment to identify and define your core values in a few easy steps. It will also help you uncover your next steps for realigning your life around your values. This process is powerful, as it will give you more confidence, increase your control over your life, and make you feel more aligned.
Peace: Why It’s a Necessary Part of Your Work Life Balance Definition
Balance includes feeling at peace with yourself and your decisions. You won’t feel good about yourself or your decisions if you don’t understand what motivates you, know what’s most important to you, or feel aligned with who you are. Again, it’s all about your core values (so be sure you download your free Values Assessment!).
Additionally, part of feeling at peace involves feeling calm, confident, and in control of your thoughts and emotions (with a mind that doesn’t race or feel cluttered, but is instead able to be present in the moment).
[Related Reading: 5 Reasons You Feel Guilty About Taking Care of Yourself].
Prosperity: What It Means
You probably think that prosperity is about money (which it can be). What I’m talking about is feeling prosperous in the following ways:
- Having time for your true priorities.
- Not feeling drained by your life (but instead motivated by it).
- Having the energy to get through each day (with some left over at the end).
- Feeling good about who you are and your decisions.
Your Next Steps to Finding Real Work Life Balance
Balance is possible… so long as you let go of the see-saw, either/or definition (that’s unworkable!) and redefine it based on what gives you purpose, brings you peace, and helps you feel prosperous in time, energy, and spirit.
One you’ve redefined your work life balance definition, it’s time to start creating real balanced for yourself. For help with how to do that, read How to Achieve Work Life Balance (Blueprint for Busy Professionals).
This article will help you live out your new work life balance definition so that you’ll finally create the personal and professional success you want.
Until next time…
P.S. Don’t forget to download your free Inner Compass Values Assessment to get clarity around your core values so that you can start redefining your work life balance definition now. Understanding your core personal values will bring more purpose to your life, increase your self-confidence and give you more control over your life. Download it here: