WTF does “work-life balance” even mean?

The other day, Jilly Cross asked me what I thought of the phrase “work-life balance”?

I did that thing where I was working back, desperately trying to find the beginning of the thread in my head. A sort of buffering, if you will. After a few minutes Jilly said it was probably too big/open a question.

Now I’ve had some time to reflect, I think this is what I think about it.

We all have a specific set of responsibilities, aspirations and goals across all sections of our life. Some are set by us, others are set by others. Some will be primarily work-related. Some won’t. Some will relate primarily to family and some will relate primarily to things that are for the self (I try to remember to fit my own mask before helping others fit theirs). I see crossover and interaction in a good number of these.

So, what’s important to me may not be important to you. And what’s important to us may not be important to them. And the amount of time we dedicate to each will probably differ.

As well as being a very individual thing, the point of balance, the equilibrium, shifts. What’s important to me has changed several times over different life stages:

  • I used to be employed by someone else, then I was freelance, now I’m a business owner
  • I didn’t used to have a wife, or a house, or kids
  • I used to be a Personal Trainer - exercise was my job and I weighed a good 20kilos (that’s 2 1/2 stones in old money) less than I do now. Now I try to carve out time to exercise and adjust the frequency, intensity, type and time based on what’s available

Everything changes. Nothing is forever. And we adapt, from day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, and so on. We are buffeted along on a wind of change, tacking and jibing… ah, whatever.

Me choosing to write, edit and post this today, now - some might look at this and think I should be doing something else. Something not work-related. Something not on LinkedIn. The fact that I am surely means my work-life balance is all to cock.

But that’s not the case. Saying the above is to miss what is my point of equilibrium. And of course you would miss it, wouldn't you? Because you're not me, and you're only seeing a minute part of the overall picture.

Those days (not every day) I get up at 4am to get some work done - doesn’t make me one of them toxic entrepreneurs. I almost always finish work by 3pm (whether I get up early, or not) and spend the afternoon with my kids. On those days when I get up at 4am, I’m asleep by 9pm (I’m lucky if I don’t fall asleep in the middle of doing “Jack & The Beanstalk” for the kids at bedtime).

All them years of schoolin' and I put me on the day shift.

Me being able to give focus and priority to the things I want to give focus and priority to - work or otherwise - at the time I want to, means I’m in equilibrium.

Someone dictating to me that I have to do something, something that gets in the way of me prioritising what I want to do, what I should be doing, to me, that’s what upsets the balance. That includes someone telling me that I should be doing something else when I’m working as well as someone telling me I should be working when I’m doing something else.

And that someone could be me. If I let something (anything - work or not) slip into the urgency trap, that’s me unbalancing myself.

So, what am I saying? I think I'm saying that there's no single unifying theory of work-life balance. So I struggle to see how any one person, or group of people, can impose what is or is not work-life balance on another person or group of people. To do so just adds unnecessary stress and anxiety.

There is no right or wrong answer, but "it" can go wrong if you try to force A on B, for example.

But, hey, that’s just me. What do you think?

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