By Jamie Kirk
People all too often talk about the need and desire for work-life balance, but I don’t believe it is what they are really looking for; the concept itself is fundamentally impossible. The notion of work-life balance implies that we have this perfect scale always in sync and rhythm between our personal and professional responsibilities at any given time. Balance might conjure up the image of someone working from home on their laptop with a child on their lap. Or perhaps someone that is at the car dealership trying to purchase a car but taking a conference call while the salesperson is delivering the vehicle.
That’s not what anyone really wants, that’s a compromise on both ends. Many peoples’ concept of what a perfectly balanced professional and personal life looks like often leads to sub-par outcomes, disappointment, and frustrations because it’s based on time allocation and juggling too many things at one time. In trying too hard to “balance” our schedules, we are simply checking off boxes, but not getting the outcomes we ideally desire due to an approach that is quantitative versus qualitative.
We need to shift our focus from what we are doing to how we are doing it. Are we giving it our undivided attention? Are we rushing? Are we taking for granted the time and attention people need? Rather than balance, what I believe we really are trying to accomplish is the ability to be truly focused and present in our work and our lives outside of work. We are kinda looking for meaningful, uninterrupted, “all-in” experiences at each end of the work/life spectrum, which will naturally ebb and flow at different times. There often won’t be balance within a week or a day and hours aren’t the determinate of quality.
When we are most happy, we feel in control. When we are in control, it allows us to better plan events, and be more proactive to life, than reactive to things going on around us. In the end, the goal is not “balance” in the traditional sense; it’s a life that lets us integrate those pieces. Work-life integration is more akin to a puzzle where all the different pieces fit naturally together in aggregate. We have to be okay with realizing that each day or week might very well bring different combinations of things to handle, but still, represent a total account of quality experiences. We have to be open and flexible. And during these times of uncertainty of what the day could bring, is that we remain fully present and engaged in each of the pieces.
It’s in the shifting of our focus when necessary that will result in better harmony of life. If working out in the middle of the day is satisfying, then do it. If taking the dog to the park in between classes is refreshing, then do it. If preparing a nice healthy smoothie as a snack gives us a bit of energy, then do it. It’s all about doing what makes us happy when it makes us happy. Not being confined or restricted to a time clock or when we “think” we should be focused on something else. Visiting Instagram mid-morning will not cause the sky to crumble. We have to be intentional and focused, when necessary; but when we can be fluid and a bit lose, we should be.
A really good exercise to try and measure our productivity and success at home, work, or school, is by the amount of quality, uninterrupted experiences we are able to have rather than trying to find an unachievable balance. When we do this, I think we can be more satisfied, more accomplished and happier with the end state. Being able to give our undivided attention to the appropriate avenue, makes everyone happy because ultimately, they will understand our focus was only on them. We do not need to participate in events, agree to dinners, or host gatherings when our minds are wondering about a big presentation or a paper due at school.
Being present is awesome. You will notice that when you step back and become intentionally present, our speech, our facial expressions, our posture and even how we move our hands align. They get in sync and focus on the person or task at hand. This harmonious and deliberate position is powerful and resonant with others because it is truly authentic and unmistakably real.