- “Work/life balance doesn’t exist, so we should stop striving for it.”
- “Why are we still talking about this?”
- “We should strive for work/life integration instead.”
A few years ago, I would have agreed and may have even said some of these things myself. But now I’m curious: When and how did it become taboo to strive for work/life balance?
For me, it happened gradually. My work became increasingly important over the years until I finally put it on a pedestal and made it the most important thing in my life. I always gave 110% to my work, always over-delivering and over-achieving. My self-care was non-existent and I put personal interests, hobbies and relationships on the back burner. There was no work/life balance; there was just work.
I started to notice that I was living a distracted and disconnected life (and noticed this in others, too). We’re busy at work all day but at the end of the day, we have little to show for it (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve frantically jumped from one task to the next but at the end of the day I’m left wondering, “What exactly did I do today?”). When we get home, we dive right into household chores (get dinner on the table, clean up, ensure the kids’ homework is done, run a load of laundry…) or we spend our evenings running personal errands or running our kids around to their various activities. For me, on the rare evenings when I had a “free” night, I found myself collapsing in exhaustion in front of the TV or hiding behind my phone, mindlessly flipping through articles I wasn’t really reading.
Then I noticed that I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and burned out. I knew intuitively that I needed a break, but I didn’t allow myself to take one because there was too much to do. As a result of all of this, I found myself disconnected from my feelings, my emotions, and my inner being (or core self). Being disconnected from myself meant that I wasn’t able to deeply connect with others.
Recently, I’ve been going deeper and deeper into my own self-exploration and personal growth. I’ve been releasing old attachments and old labels that no longer fit and my core self has started to emerge. As I’ve been learning more about who I aspire to be and what I want my life to look like, feel like, and be like, my beliefs, values and priorities have also been evolving.
I still love my work; my current calling as a life coach fills me with great meaning and satisfaction. The key difference is that now, the people in my life are the most important thing. And I know that when I let my self-care slip or when I feel out of balance, I am not fully present in my relationships. Putting my own healing and self-care first gives me the capacity to mend and deepen all of the relationships that have been damaged over the years.
I believe it would be a big mistake to stop talking about work/life balance and to stop prioritizing self-care. I don’t *love* the term “work/life balance.” I think the term itself creates a false image that everything in our life should get "equal" attention, which is not realistic. But I really don’t like the term “work/life integration” because to me, this creates an absence of boundaries between our work and our personal life.
No matter what you choose to call it, our concept of work/life balance and self-care is what matters.
First, we all need to create our own definitions of work/life balance (and define what self-care means to us). I’ve learned that I feel centered (in “balance”) when I am focusing on my personal and spiritual growth; when I make my own self-care a priority and allow quiet time and self-reflection; when I experience quality connections with my family; when I spend time on my personal interests such as reading or listening to my favorite music; and when I am doing work that makes my heart sing. These do not get “equal” time, but must be present in the right amount when I need it (for some that’s daily; for others weekly or monthly). What elements must be present for you to feel centered? Explore your innermost beliefs on work/life balance and self-care. You might respond to the following in your journal:
- What are my current beliefs about work/life balance? How are those beliefs serving me today?
- What are my current beliefs about self-care? How are those beliefs serving me today?
- If you find any negative beliefs, reframe them into a positive one. For example, a belief that “it’s selfish to allow time for my own self-care,” might be reframed as, “Self-care allows me to be of greater service to others.” Or, a belief that “I don’t have time for self-care,” might be reframed as, “I have all the time I need to do what is important to me and self-care is a priority.”
Second, how we define work/life balance and what we consider self-care is likely to shift over time and as we go through various stages of life. My definition started shifting when I became a mother, changed again when I became a business owner, and has been continuing to evolve since I turned 40. What do you notice about how your definition of “balance” or self-care has shifted over the years?
Our pursuit of work/life balance and self-care becomes easier when we are connected to our heart and soul, or our core self/inner being. When this internal connection is strong, we claim our core values, we know our true character, and we are confident in our priorities and intentions. With a clear picture of who we are and how we want to be, we feel centered, we tune into the needs of our body, and we choose activities that nourish and rejuvenate us, bringing calm, peace, and centeredness. Connecting to our true self is an ongoing journey; it does not happen overnight. Unsure about where to start? Here are a few ideas:
- Finding our inner being requires us to be still, to quiet the external chatter rumbling through our minds, and to inquire within.
- Get to know yourself better, figure out what centers you, and get clear on your non-negotiables. Clarify and claim your core values, write the vision you have of your ideal life, get clear on who you are and how you want to be. From that, you can create your priorities and set your intentions.
- Create time and space for the self-care rituals that nourish your heart and soul. Maybe you need to start with 5 or 10 minutes a day, or an hour per week. You need to start somewhere and you can increase the time as you get into the habit. Can you get up a few minutes earlier, take your lunch break in a park, or sneak away for a few minutes after the kids go to bed?
- Find an accountability buddy, a coach, or another trusted resource to learn with. When we are going through deep self-exploration and personal transformation, we do some heavy lifting, but we do not take the journey alone. As we connect with others, we are influenced by their ideas and perspectives, whether we agree with them or not. We learn from and with other people. This blog is a great example of that; numerous interactions about these topics helped me get clear on what I did and didn’t believe.
I’d love to hear from you. What are your beliefs about work/life balance? How do you care for yourself and nourish your soul?
If you’d like extra support in any of the areas mentioned in this blog, I invite you to learn more about my upcoming group coaching program, the Clarity Circle. I am so excited about this opportunity to bring all of these concepts into a group program where we can learn from one another and explore how to integrate each of these topics into our own lives.