What comes to mind when you think of work-life balance? Do you imagine feeling calm, being totally on top of things, with the perfect combo of play, work and family or friends, feeling happily successful? Is it this “place” you will reach when you’ve finally found the right rhythm in your life?

Let me say right now, work-life balance is not something you can win! It isn’t a destination where you arrive and succeed. It is a messy, moving, textured target. Finding your rhythm is a journey, and it changes as your needs change.

Holding on to it being a place you land is a problem because it leaves you grasping for something that isn’t real. The act of working toward work-life balance can lead to the exact opposite when you feel guilty, anxious, and like you’re a failure for not doing it “better”!

Let’s step back a moment and break some of this down.

  1. First of all, why do we separate work and life?

    Why do we think that riding a bike for a few hours in the park is “play” but creating a donor engagement story is “work”? What if we thought more about how some experiences fit our strengths and motivations, while others challenge us to grow or are not as exciting, but we don’t label them “work” or “life”?

    The myth plays out a bit like this… Here’s an explanation from a piece on Time.com:

    “They imply that work is bad, and life is good; we lose ourselves in work but find ourselves in life; we survive work, but live life. And so the challenge, we are told, is to balance the heaviness of work with the lightness of life.”

    Recently, a friend said she was working to completely delete the word “work” from her life. Instead of saying, “I’m going to go do some work,” she is now saying, “I’m going to go email and call my donors,” or “I’m going to create a donor plan.” Try it. What shifts in your thinking and how you feel if you no longer use the word work and think more about activities you are engaging with throughout the day?

  2. It’s not so much about balance but movement.

    Having the perfect balance for work and life isn’t really what makes you happier. It’s about moving between the activities in your life in a way that is working for you in the moment. Instead of being a scale where you trying to find a balanced place in the middle, think about it being a pendulum swinging between areas in your life that you need to give time and attention to. The question is whether the pendulum is stuck in one spot. That is when you feel the burnout and frustration – that sense of overwhelm which leads to more conflict in your relationships. If you are looking for ways to get that movement flowing, check out my previous blogs on how to manage your energy, not your time.

  3. Two things have to happen before anything can change for you.

    One is you must take responsibility for your own life. No one is going to do it for you. So many times, I’ve realized I had been complaining to my boss or others coming from a vague idea that someone is going to come save me. That someone is you.

    The second thing you need is to believe you deserve and are worthy of creating a life experience that works better for you. Take an honest look at where your identity and ego are fed. If your ego gets fed by telling others how much you work, or by bragging about how you talk to donors anytime, day or night, or having the perfect clean house, then how is that working for you, the real you? Does the real you, that beautiful, wonderful human inside you, deserve to have a combination of activities spent in a way that brings you more joy?

As you head into summer, play with shifting your mindset and see what happens. Do you need to let go of the myth that work-life balance is a destination that you have to reach? What happens when you stop dividing everything into “work” or “life” and think more about activities as you swing between them like a pendulum? What changes when you accept that you are the person that can change your happiness in life?