work life balance

What the Hell Does Work/Life Balance Mean Anyway?


Early in my career, before I even knew burnout was a thing, I heard a lot about work/life balance.  It seemed to be the most sought after ingredient in building a happy career and yet it was utterly illusive.  I literally attended entire meetings on work/life balance, my firm’s book club read about it, and it was, without doubt, raised in every leadership panel I attended.

At the time, we turned to the senior women in our firm to guide us in the balancing act between growing our careers and building a personal life. Conversations on striking a balance mostly revolved around how we spent our time.  Each of us wanting to figure out a way to split it more effectively between the seemingly competing demands of work and personal life.

I remember one female partner boldly telling us that work/life balance was a myth, that imbalance was the reality of being a professional woman.  Rather than balance, she encouraged us to allow for a fluidity in the area of our life that received the most attention, spending our time where it was needed most and to learn to be ok with letting the rest go.

Ultimately, work/life balance conversations all boiled down to having realistic expectations and managing your time.

That was almost 15 years ago, and the struggle for achieving work/life balance is greater than ever.  Between a globalized workforce, literally carrying work in our pockets, and influential figures encouraging us to lean in; its no wonder it often feels like the cards are stacked against us achieving balance. The truth is, it’s going to stay that way until we start to really understand what balance truly is.

What the Hell Does Work Life Balance Mean Anyway?

The full equation.

Spoiler alert. Work/life balance has nothing to do with managing your time and little to do with setting better expectations.  Hence why most of the advice we’ve received is complete crap and in fact totally useless (although it might help you manage time more efficiently and possibly achieve advances in your career).

This advice fails because it ignores a very critical component in the balance equation, energy.

The assumption used to be that to feel balanced you needed to spend equal amounts of time on each activity. But true balance doesn’t come from how you spend your time, but how you use and receive energy. Time only becomes important as a measure of how much energy you gained or lost relative to how much time you spent doing something.

Digging into what drains you…

You probably already know the things you don’t like, but do you know why? Why is the Monday morning staff meeting the worst part of your week, why does an email from your boss make your stomach sink, why are you completely wiped out from your commute?

There are six main energetic influencers which directly impact how much energy you gain or lose from a given situation, they are: spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, social and environmental.   Factors within these areas influence how balanced you feel at any given moment.

Say those emails you receive from your boss are pretty convoluted and regularly ask that you change direction or jump on a fire drill.  Which means they impact your ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand, detract from the clarity you had about what you should be working on and might even take away from your ability to decide what’s most important.  Each of these repercussions on your energy represent factors within the mental area, and zeroing in on the specific factor that is triggered by a situation helps you to understand the impact on your equanimity.

…And what feeds you.

As important, is having a deep and specific understanding of what feeds you.  What gives or boots your energy and why?

A client of mine intentionally took on additional responsibilities at her job, knowing it would impact the amount of time she had for herself outside of work.  However, she took on the role, because it gave her the opportunity to empower other employees in her organization – and inspiring others to be engaged, solve problems creatively and do great work really lights her up.

The balancing act.

Gone are the days where it was mostly women discussing the balancing act between climbing the corporate ladder and raising a family.  A universal shift is happening that acknowledges balance as an important part of a fulfilling and meaningful life.

So rather than focusing on setting expectations or honing your time management skills, I want you to start thinking in terms of the energetic balance equation.

Balance = How often you feel fed > How often you feel drained

When balance feels elusive or life feels out of wack, finding your center becomes all about shifting the things that drain you so you can spend more time focused on what feeds you.

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