We all struggle with how to make our lives what we want them to be. Our goals, dreams, tasks, obligations, chores and aspirations all compete for our attention. Add the goals and needs of others – spouses, parents, children, friends, colleagues, etc. – and it is a miracle our brains can possibly organize our lives into any workable form any day of the week, much less week after month after year.
Our culture has struggled to help us frame how best to create the lives we want. The context of work has been helpful: work hard and you will be able to afford the environment and opportunities you want for yourself and your family. But then work can take over one’s life – “life” being family, fun and the things that we’d rather be doing other than working. The implication is that work is supposed to be separate from life and that one should not be more important than the other. Ok…
So, work and life must somehow become balanced. Like a teeter-totter, one side or the other can suddenly plummet if unexpected imbalance occurs, thereby jettisoning the other side up into the air and flying off into the wind waiting for a convenient time to be recovered. It’s very precarious.
But I don’t buy the work-life balance concept. I think that those two elements are missing what we are really trying to sort out. It implies that your work is not part of your life (and god help you if you actually like your work…where are your priorities!?).
So what if we stop thinking about balancing work and life? Life is the whole package: work, family, fun, school, exercise, people and community – the list goes on. If we’re concerned about whether or not the amount of work we do is good or bad for us because of the negative stress that can result, then the idea we need to think about is Work-Health. The work we do as humans – whether that is parenting, farming, writing or corporate raiding – is dependent upon our overall health. When we are rested, happy, connected to others and healthy, we can do all sorts of things and have fun in the process. When we are exhausted, unhappy, disconnected or ill, we are limited in what we can accomplish.
My suggestion is that we stop thinking about separating work from life – it’s too stressful to try to keep that teeter-totter from wobbling. The idea of a work-health framework has a richer meaning. The joy and success we experience from all aspects of life is supported by overall health. Exploring the dynamic relationship our health and our work have to each other helps us enjoy all aspects of life more. Each dimension of our lives will fluctuate in how much attention we want to and can give them. Whether the things we work and play at support or detract from our feeling of living in a healthy and satisfying way is a more useful question than whether we are in “balance” with some arbitrary idea of what our lives should be.