The Term Work-Life Balance is a Trap (& What You Can Say Instead)
Dear Working Parents:
We’ve been sold a lie. Work-Life Balance is a trap - and we've all fallen into it for way too long.
Just the term alone makes us (unconsciously) miserable. Here’s why:
1. Nobody wants to fight all the time. Work-Life Balance pits work against life. Work vs. Life. As if the two must always be in tension with one another.
2. Something always has to give. By adding the word “balance,” no hope exists for sustained harmony. Like a see-saw, when one side goes up, the other inevitably goes down. Up and down. Back and forth. Push and pull.
3. It suggests a boundary that doesn’t exist. Work-Life Balance assumes a clear and distinct line between work and life that's not work. Sometimes we even write a dividing line – Work/Life Balance. But the first time daycare or the school nurse calls at 10:45 on a Tuesday because your kid's running a 100.6 fever, you recognize your days are too fluid for such a stark dichotomy.
4. It equates work and life - so we don't even question it. Work-Life Balance positions work and life on the same level (and life even second in that order!), suggesting they have equal weight. This false equivalence colors our perspective. In reality, Life is the umbrella under which work (and other priorities like self, family, and home) sit. Don’t fall for that trap!
The words we use matter. They frame our perceptions and set the expectations for what we believe is possible. What we think, we become. So when we see work-life balance, we are conditioned instinctively for the fight, for the push and pull. For the idea that something always has to give. That they are of equal weight. Work or Life? You choose.
Now, some “experts” use terms like Work-Life Harmony or Work-Life Integration. Harmony and Integration portray a softer, more modern image, for sure. But the fundamental problem still exists -- Work vs. Life. Two separate but equal concepts. Same trap.
It’s long overdue to push past this limited thinking.
What to Say Instead
When people tell me they have a problem with Work-Life Balance, I encourage them to stepback and reframe their struggle by asking How Can I Live a Life that Works for Me? What matters most to me and how can I organize my life around those priorities? And, most often overlooked, what am I willing to forego to Live a Life that Works for Me?
If you want to sidestep the Work-Life Balance trap once and for all and Live a Life that Works for You:
1. Get clear on your priorities by asking:
· What matters most to me?
· What are my non-negotiables?
· What does success look like?
2. Consistently organize your life around those priorities by considering:
· How do I spend my time? Does it line up with what matters most? If not, why not?
· What’s getting in the way of my priorities? And what can I do about that?
3. Let everything else go by:
· Learning how to say no. Seriously.
· Asking for help. Also seriously.
· Considering the underlying reasons why you might not be willing to let something go.
Note: For the realists in the room, you may be wondering how you can GYSD (Get Your Sh!t Done), like laundry and grocery shopping, and still Live a Life that Works for You. Thanks for the reality check, friends. You're right; those tasks don't magically disappear. But there are better ways for you (and others!) to get them done so they don’t suck up all your time.
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Danielle Pickens is the founder of The Working Parent’s Guide, the working parent's go-to resource for practical tools, tips, and proven solutions for organizing your life in a way that brings you joy and gets your sh!t done. She’s personally tested everything she recommends on her 3 fun-loving kids, her good-sport husband, and her friends and colleagues through her role as Chief Program Officer at a national education nonprofit.