The Illusion of Work- Life balance

In Time Management  I wrote about the value of time management as a tool but not as a way of life. In my 30’s and 40’s I applied the principles of time management to “work-life balance.” I reasoned I could balance work with lifestyle by defining compartments in my life and then use the management principles to allocate time and schedule.

I divided my life into various buckets — work, family, exercise and relationships. I then decided how much time I needed and wanted within each category and created weekly schedules in my head. Intermittent feelings of successful balance fueled my illusion that work-life balance was useful and achievable. I would feel “in balance” for a week or two until events disrupted the fragile equilibrium. Work might intermittently demand more time or my kids might be sick or I might sustain a running injury.

And even on the weeks when I felt balanced, I sensed gnawing dread that an event would upset my plan. Perhaps a patient would need to be seen late in the afternoon causing me to miss a soccer game or arrive late for a family dinner. I spent enormous energy creating and maintaining boundaries between the divisions I created.

At times I wanted to do something different than what was scheduled. What if I just wanted to watch TV or read a book rather than exercise or what if I wanted alone time rather than being with my family?

The more I chased balance the more I felt imbalanced and frustrated.

Fortunately in my 50’s I realized the chase was futile and built on misleading assumptions. The very phrase “work-life” pitted work against the rest of my life causing me to frame the wrong questions. In fact, most days I found work gratifying and even on frustrating days, work provided security for my family. In other words, work was inseparable from the rest of my life.

Most importantly, the work-life framework assumed a mentality of scarcity rather than abundance. Allocating time to various aspects of my life meant that time was scarce and I needed to carefully measure and guard how I spent my hours. Indeed, even the phrase “spent my hours” sprang from the scarcity of a limited budget of time.

Gradually I stopped running after balance and shifted from a sense of scarcity to abundance and passion. I found that inviting gratitude and compassion into my life filled me with a sense of plenty. I made certain my days included activities that flowed from my passions which made the concept of work-life balance irrelevant.

Instead of “work-life balance” consider the frame of connecting with the energy and abundance of self, others and meaning. Connecting with self may include regular exercise, formal meditation, walks in nature or simply sitting quietly for a few minutes. Connecting with others may occur by opening to genuine conversation, volunteering, finding community, love or compassion. Connecting with meaning may be expressed through being in touch with what’s just beneath the surface of your work, feeling a part of nature or through a formal contemplative or religious practice.

The passions of our hearts bring energy to the activities of our heads. Please use comments below to describe the passions at work that bring you energy. How do you cultivate the energy flowing from your passions as you put head and heart together?