The GOAL of Work/Life Balance

In the rat-race work world in which we live, people are striving to figure out how to get the work/life balance thing just right. My advice? Give it up.

Establishing a “balance” between work and life is a mirage. People think they can see it in the distance, but they never get there.

Why? Because such thinking is based on a false premise: That for me to be happy I need to somehow balance my private life with my work life. The belief is that achieving such a goal will bring much-needed equilibrium to my life.

But it’s just not achievable, because things happen both at work and in life that will always throw you off balance. Life is filled with variables you cannot control, and those variables will inevitably tip the finely-tuned balance between work and life.

That’s why I believe the relationship between work and the rest of life is not a balance to be achieved but a tension to be managed.

A number of years ago, I was on a business trip with a return flight scheduled to get me home to enjoy the evening with my family. Our flight was on time and we were within 45 minutes of DFW airport… when all hell broke loose.

We were surrounded by thunderstorms, and as the pilot jockeyed his way through the thunderheads, hoping to be able to land, he informed us that we were being diverted to San Antonio.

By the time we landed in San Antonio, it was 11 pm and there were two thousand people on the ground who had also been diverted. So I grabbed the last rental car available (literally) and began the drive home to Dallas through constant storms. I finally arrived at DFW around 6 am, returned the rental car, got my car, and headed home where I did a quick shower, shave, and change to get into work for a previously scheduled meeting.

Then there was the day I was working away at my desk only to get an urgent call from my wife… she was going into labor with our third child and could already feel the baby wanting to make a quick entrance. I dashed to my car, raced home, got my wife, and rushed her to the hospital where she delivered our baby only 40 minutes after we arrived.

So much for work/life balance.

In the one instance, my private life got completely disrupted by an unforeseen storm that would cost me time with my family. In the other, my work had to be pushed aside as my third child decided it was time to make her appearance.

Both life and work will throw things your way that you can never anticipate and that will always disrupt the balance you are seeking to achieve.

So instead of stressing over trying to bring things into balance, my advice is to see it as a constant tension to be managed, giving yourself or your spouse permission to be pulled either way as warranted. The tension will always be there, you just have to consciously manage it.

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