First, let me get two things out of the way: I’m not going to tell you that the idea of “work and life balance” is a myth. (Even though I did actually say pretty much those exact words. But read that post and you’ll get the idea.) It is a real thing that people achieve everyday. Second, it is not easy, but it is possible. Here’s how:
Defining work and life balance
The biggest problem that most of us have is that we don’t properly define the concept of balance in work and life. Most of the time, this idea only comes up when you’re on the edge of burning out, anyway. We then begin to desperately search and scratch for some magic pill or trick to give us what we’re looking for. (Be honest, did you end up here because of a Google search? S’okay, you’re secret’s safe with me.)
But mentally picture what a work/life balance looks like. Usually, we actually envision ourselves at home or doing the things we enjoy doing. Most of the time, the office doesn’t enter into that mental picture. But that’s part of the problem we’re trying to solve. Work is one half of the work/life equation. So, work is necessary, for financial and momentum reasons.
Work is half the problem, but not half the answer
Shift your thinking from the idea of life/work to that other word: balance. We’re trying to achieve a balance, right? Think of weight scales: You add some weight to one side, it tips the scale, you even it out on the other side, it tips the scales the other way. One thing you almost never see is the weight scale perfectly balanced and absolutely still. It’s usually moving, constantly counteracting itself at any given moment.
So a work/life balance is not something we really hope to achieve as a destination, but rather constant ebb and flow of a journey. This balance is not a problem to solve, it’s a tension to manage. Sometimes, you’ll have to stay late at work. Sometimes you need to spend extra time with the kids. The secret isn’t in the magic of some balancing point, it’s in the way you handle it.
The trick to work and life balance
It’s so simple really, and in fact, if you’re reading this, you’re already on your way to figuring it out: it’s simply being intentional about it. The fact you’re aware you have a problem is the first step to fixing it. But like a lot of other things (money, relationships, etc) the issue at hand isn’t really a thing but a behavior. Achieving work/life balance is a matter of intentionally monitoring and modifying that behavior, channeling the events that life throws your way — attempting to make some sense out of it — and then adjusting what you can control as necessary. We can’t escape the fact that we might need to stay late at the office for a season, but we can sure control how long, and we can be intentional about bringing that pendulum back in this direction.