Carry out a quick internet search on the topic of work-life balance and it is obvious the subject strikes a popular chord. Articles abound with advice on how to achieve it in ten easy steps or less!
Some advice is practical and easy to implement; some is intangible and harder to act upon. Let’s take a closer look at three recommendations that show up frequently. As a woman and a ‘seasoned’ workers’ comp professional, I would like to share my thoughts on whether these recommendations hold water and should be embraced.
Separated by several hundred miles, for years my mother and I had a standing check-in call on Sunday evenings to catch up on the latest happenings. One evening I made the casual comment that I was tired, that I was going to throw a load of laundry in the washer, and that I was then going to go to bed. My mother’s gasp of disbelief was audible. I could only imagine the look of horror that I am sure was on her face. The protest that followed burned my ear though the phone line: “But that will mean you’ll be leaving damp clothes in the machine overnight!!”
My mother was right….damp clothes would be left in the washing machine overnight. I wrestled momentarily with this predicament and then responded: “Mom, I’m busy all week and will be traveling on business. If I don’t do it this way, I’ll be out of clean underwear before the end of the week. Don’t worry; I’ll throw it all in the dryer first thing in the morning.” At a different point in my life, I might have given in and altered my approach to align with my mother’s expectations around the ‘proper’ way to do laundry. Instead, in an instant, I found clarity — simply let go of any expectations and you’ll be much happier. And in this case, I would also have enough clean underwear to make it through the work week!
My mother was obviously raised in a different time. As a woman and a busy working professional in 21st century America, I can absolutely attest that learning to let go of your own expectations and those from others can do wonders for your peace of mind. Consider this advice validated.
I read somewhere that the art of achieving work-life balance for women professionals was through ‘careful planning and prioritization.’ Further, all one needed to do was establish boundaries around work activities and life activities, calendar them into your schedule, and manage time appropriately. According to this method, the key to success could be found in approaching the demands of work and life as if they were distinct deliverables in a project — list them all out and proceed to execute effectively.
Our minds are hard-wired to create boundaries, draw distinctions, and to compartmentalize. Something is either this, or it is that. Drawing boundaries or distinctions, while efficient, does have a down-side. It leads to comparisons — and comparisons can be distressing. How much time am I allocating to work compared to life? Too much? Too little? Am I spending time on the right things? The wrong things? I can just feel the psychic angst welling up inside around these questions as I type!
I suggest that equanimity can be found by taking a lesson from the Buddhists. There are no dualities. There is no ‘work.’ There is no ‘life.’ There is only what is happening in the present moment. If we are fully engaged in the present moment, we are right where we are supposed to be and are, by definition, ‘in balance.’ Consider the advice to establish boundaries and compartmentalize debunked.
This piece of advice is a tricky one. Let’s tackle the career part first. Some career choices have some obvious and very well-known demands that may or may not align well with balance. If you are about to decide upon a career, it behooves you to do a little investigation into the demands of the choices before you. For instance, if you are accustomed to taking a lengthy family vacation during the first quarter of every year and plan to continue the tradition, you might want to rethink the idea about becoming a tax accountant. Assuming you have landed in the right career; however, finding the right work place can be a little more daunting. It is not impossible, though. More and more organizations recognize and support flexibility on the job — and even market that flexibility to attract talent. It is simply a matter of vetting out prospective employers’ offer.
But what if you are already well established in your career and work place and find the demands to be more than you bargained for? The recommendation is to choose the right career and work place. The operative word is ‘choose.’ It may not be obvious, but you always have choices. I know, I know. It will not be easy to pursue a new career or to find a new employer. But never forget that you are in complete control. When the time is right, exercise your options. Or not. After all, if you practice living in the present moment as described in the second recommendation, you are right where you’re supposed to be and are already in balance. Consider this advice sound.
There you have it. Two out of three recommendations on achieving work-life balance appear to be worth adopting. Give them a try and let us know how it goes!
Post Script: You have heard that old adage, “Mother knows best?” Well, Mom wasn’t fully right about the evils of leaving damp clothes in the washer overnight. However, there apparently are limitations on just how long you can leave them. Ask me how I know.