Linda Quarles doesn’t want balance in her life because no matter how she cuts it, balance sounds tedious, exhausting, and virtually unattainable.
This article is not about how to define, pursue, or attain work-life balance. Work-life balance is fundamentally a flawed concept. Instead, a better way to describe the cadence of our lives is the word rhythm.
Balance suggests the following images: the scales of justice, a teeter-totter, and a gymnastics balance beam.
The scales of justice
Here’s the thing about this scale: it’s either in balance or it’s not. Both sides need to be exactly equal in weight for it to be in balance. And once you have painstakingly achieved balance, add an ounce on one side and you are immediately out of balance. Not only is this tedious, it also seems to me an extremely rigid and calculating way to live.
Imagine the teeter totter without anyone sitting on the ends, and you standing precariously on the middle, with one foot on each side. Both ends of the plank are suspended in the air, with the board parallel to the ground. It’s actually a decent workout. But that’s exactly the point: it’s a workout. It requires a tremendous amount of energy, and your core muscles have to be firing at all times to stay in balance. Relax for a moment, and one side of the plank comes crashing to the ground.
The gymnastics balance beam
The beam is four inches wide (FOUR inches!) and approximately four feet off the ground. It requires years of training to obtain anything close to a perfect score. This event is scored, “difficulty X execution = total.” So the more difficult your routine, the higher your score. The more mistakes you make, the more deductions you receive. And the ultimate goal is to get OFF the balance beam without falling or getting injured.
None of these descriptions sounds like a way I would like to live my life. I don’t want balance in my life because no matter how I cut it, balance sounds tedious, exhausting, and virtually unattainable.
Rhythm, however, is a more appropriate construct.
Our lives have a distinct rhythm. Summer has a rhythm. The holidays have a rhythm. Fiscal year end has a rhythm. The company’s annual conference season has a rhythm. Whatever the events and punctuations of your life, there is an accompanying rhythm. Sometimes the anticipated rhythms are interrupted–a sick child or parent, a broken down car, the unexpected departure of a key team member. However, for the most part, there is a certain amount of predictability about the ebbs and flows of our days and months.
The rhythm of waves and the open sea
The rhythm of life is like riding the ocean waves. Some waves are taller than others. Some you can see coming, others creep up on you. But every time you go up, you know that eventually you will come down. When I realized that life is rhythm, I was freed of the guilt and judgment that comes from feeling that, I am just OUT OF balance.
It’s true that I have missed dance and piano recitals, sports games, and even a child’s birthday. It’s also true that I have missed an important presentation at work for a family vacation. We have had take-out four nights in a row, and we have also learned how to cook farro and used watermelon radish in a salad for the first time this year. We have hosted spontaneous dinner parties with neighbors while piles of school and work papers are shoved just out of eyesight in the corner. We strive to have dinner together as a family, but some nights it just doesn’t work out.
Rather than measure your ability to balance day by day, reflect on the rhythm of my life over the course of the year. Have you created memories based on quality time and little moments? Have you kicked butt in delivering knockout work products, sometimes working into the wee hours of the night not out of obligation but out of passion? Are you proud to say that you bring your best to work, family, friends, and faith most of the time? When your kids see you working, do they bring you a glass of wine and a hug, and to tell you that they are proud of you? Is the pile of family favorite board games growing yearly? Does your spouse look at you with tender eyes when you are hurriedly running out the door with only one shoe on?
The thing about riding the waves of life is, we are never surprised when another wave is just behind this one. We look forward to the lull that we know is just beyond the horizon. We even sometimes crave the thrill of the big ones.
Let’s spurn the concept of work-life balance. Work is a part of life, and not something to be compartmentalized and balanced. Instead, find the rhythms in your life, so you can look forward to having a year full of memorable highs and calm stillness.
Photo credit: Flickr/sunshinegurl2