Life balance. Two simple words. Separately they convey richness, connection, achievement and strength. Together, they become daunting. To many of us these words seem an oxymoron. Throw in the 24/7 and we are staring at a holy grail.
Since my career started, the presence and impact of women has made amazing strides in the workplace. Although we have a long way to go for equal pay and equal representation at C-levels, we’ve come a long, long way. Glass ceilings have been broken. My generation benefits from that and breaks new ground for the next. My boys are raised in a home with two adults with equal careers of equal importance. They share the same college, career and life aspirations as the young ladies they sit next to in school. This is their norm.
The Erosion of Boundaries
Also the norm is the transitioning workplace. To attract and retain talent, companies have to offer new work hours, new office configurations and work from home options. Advances in technology continue to push the limits of personal availability: where we work and when we work. Breaking the boundaries of the 9-to-5 office paradigm added flexibility for both men and women. But the erasure of boundaries peeled away what protected private life from work life.
Three life balance rules we should collectively accept: First, personal calculus is personal calculus. Priorities must be individually defined. Second, these should be written in pencil and changed when necessary. Finally, achievement of priorities needs only one assessment. Yours.
Once you’ve had that honest conversation with yourself about your career and personal ambitions, here are some recommendations on how to achieve them.
Achieving a balanced life requires effort. It isn’t just going to happen spontaneously. Be proactive and take charge. When I responded to a co-worker’s inquiry that I was weary one Friday afternoon, she said, “Yeah, but it’s a good kind of tired.” She was right. Yes, I’d worked hard, but I was doing the work I wanted to be doing. There’s a difference between tired and “a good kind of tired.” I celebrate days when I achieve the latter.
Concede that the quality of the weekend will be better if you get a few things done and off your mind. So knock out that presentation in the morning or whittle at the overloaded inbox before the family pads downstairs to make themselves breakfast.
Master the tricks of air travel. Keep the get-home-faster options open at all times, whether that’s an earlier flight or dodging some airline mishap with a reroute. Never, ever check luggage. Packing is like prepping for a long distance hike: minimalist. The red eyes get you home before the school bus arrives. That counts for something.
Don’t sabotage yourself physically. Consider diminishing returns. Rest when you need it. Commit 30 minutes of 2 hours to a replenishing nap to make the remaining 90 minutes more productive. Eat well. Drink water.
Reconcile your weaknesses. My family would tell you, I can’t cook. I would tell you, I don’t cook. Maybe, some day, the guilt of my mom’s amazing kitchen talents may get the better of me and I’ll commit the time to it. But, since I generally view it as a chore rather than a hobby, I doubt it.
With all the opportunities women now possess, the achievement of balanced lives remains elusive. Life balance still aligns itself to the expectations of the past. There is some underlying notion—probably falsely reinforced in the media that bombards us—that women need to become Martha Stewart, Meg Whitman and Angelina Jolie all rolled into one. Is anyone surprised that life balance is almost always aligned to women and mothers rather than men and fathers? That’s not to say that my husband doesn’t struggle to attain it. Rather, no societal pressure exists for his achievement. Society, unfairly, has already ranked priorities for men. What this tells us is that what society has assigned to women—in terms of expectations of achieving life balance—is just as artificial for us as it is for them. We should ignore it.
Achieving life balance. That sounds much easier than it is. It takes courage and honesty. It took me a long time to admit, I love to work. It is who I am. When you look at the list that is your life goals—both personal and career—is it your own? It should be.
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