Work/Life Balance is a Journey, Not a Destination

By Lauren Hall
September 11, 2023

Work/life balance is not a new topic. You can scour the internet for five minutes and find numerous guides, videos, and research topics covering the matter. Headlines such as Practice More Self Care, Wake Up Early to Find Balance, and The Secret to Using All of Your Vacation Time provide “solutions” for creating the desirable balance workers crave.

Being a working mom with a toddler and another baby on the way, I feel the heavy weight of trying to do it all, be it all and balance it all. As a CEO with a staff of 13 employees, I also feel the need to demonstrate some type of balance in order for my employees to feel comfortable doing the same. 

The problem is there’s a big misconception surrounding work/life balance. Many feel it’s achievable, but it’s not. Work/life balance is a journey, not a destination.

Two journalists, Ioana Lupu and Mayra Ruiz-Castro, from The Harvard Business Review, conducted 200 in-depth interviews with working parents in highly demanding positions. Through their research, they uncovered a fresh look at work/life balance. 

The big takeaway? It’s not something you can achieve with a one-time fix. It requires a perpetual cycle of self-awareness that must be consistently revisited and readjusted for your current circumstances and priorities.

In the summary of their findings, Lupu and Ruiz-Castro determined that when employees find themselves feeling overly worked with no margin, they swing the pendulum to the other side and spend a season highly focused on life outside of work. Eventually, they begin to feel like they’re falling behind at work. They go back to putting in overtime and having fewer boundaries to protect their personal lives. For many, this cycle continues on and off for years. 

The truth is, this cycle isn’t entirely bad. It puts two very important elements of mental health into practice: 1) capacity for reflexivity– the questioning of your assumptions to reach deeper self-awareness, and 2) intentional role redefinition– the capacity to create new roles with joint responsibility. (Example: “Working Parent” is the joint effort of fulfilling the role of an employee and a parent at the same time. The definition of this role shares dual responsibilities that do not compete with each other but are all-encompassing to the individual as a whole.)

The danger of this cycle is most people do not reach the next phase until their mental state is in panic or peril. To keep from getting to a breaking point, Lupu and Ruiz-Castro suggest using these 5 steps on an ongoing basis:

  1. Stop and reflect. Ask yourself these questions: What is currently causing me stress, unbalance, or dissatisfaction? What am I prioritizing? What am I sacrificing? Only after you take a mental pause and acknowledge these factors can you begin to tackle them.
  1. Give your emotions the attention they deserve. Once you’ve increased your awareness of your current situation, examine how that situation makes you feel. Ask yourself, do I feel energized, fulfilled, satisfied? Or do I feel angry, resentful, or sad? Being aware of how your logical decisions make you feel will give you more insight into what’s really most important to you.
  1. Commit to making shifts as needed. It’s one thing to be aware of the need for change; it’s another thing to put those changes into action. Steps one and two provide the tools to shift and rearrange priorities before your mental health is affected. Make a commitment to problem-solve for yourself.
  1. Consider alternatives. Before determining solutions, consider options at home or work to help you better align your priorities. How flexible can your work hours be? Can you use a calendar-blocking technique to ensure you follow through with intentional time with friends and family? Look at your life as a whole instead of numerous roles and responsibilities to fulfill.
  1. Make your changes public. Tell friends, family, co-workers, bosses, etc., about your desires. Give them permission to hold you accountable, and ask if they’d like you to hold them accountable, too.

While these steps and insights can help create the life you desire, keep the journey toward balance in mind. You won’t always get it right, and sometimes you’ll have to bend around your own boundaries. Putting them in place can guide your perspective and protect your overall mental state.

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