Work-life balance has been a topic of discussion for women trying to “have it all”. In recent years, the debate has focused on whether or not balance is actually possible. Having tried and failed to achieve perfect balance, I’ve learned that balance is possible but it may not look the way we were told.
We have strived for thriving careers while raising children as perfect mothers. That concept is both imperfect and incomplete. We are more than professionals and mothers; we are wives/girlfriends/partners, community members, and, of course, individuals. Balance is understanding that everything has value. Balance is wellness. Balance is self-love. Consider a chair – four legs. Each one is as important as the other three. No one can support you without its band of brothers.
I have developed what I call, “The four corners of balance.” I think of them as: (1) Family (2) Career (3) Community and (4) Self. Each corner has equal value and needs attention. If you only favor three, like a chair, you will have instability. For example, you’re in a restaurant and the chair teeters back and forth with one short leg. It cannot stand firmly; It’s uncomfortable and annoying. Life feels that way when all four corners are not maintained. If you neglect one corner, or only lean on one, in both cases, the chair will break and you’ll land on the floor. Ask yourself, do you focus too heavily on your career? Your family? Or, do you take time for yourself?
So, the question becomes…how do you achieve balance? Is it achievable? My theory is this: work/life balance is possible, but not every day, and not in perfect balance. Life is like a row of empty buckets. To have a complete life, we need to fill them all. Each bucket represents family, work, home, love/relationship (if you choose to partake), and self-care. Each needs filling to avoid tilting out of balance.
It’s unrealistic to be a professional for half the day and homemaker for the other half. It simply doesn’t work that way. The ability to bend and flex is key. If you have a critical work issue, work will take more than it gives; it’s ok to bend in that direction for a while.
Conversely, when the need is at home (i.e. school play, illness, days off as a family), devote your time to them. Lobby for yourself so your company understands and appreciates your value. Also, take time for yourself. No calls, texts, family errands – just you. Take a day off; do what you enjoy most. Try deep breathing, yoga, or meditation a few minutes each week. Such moments are important to your body and mind. Periodically assess your row of buckets. Are they all getting filled? Does one seem neglected?
As you work toward balance, remember to be gentle with yourself. Balance looks different for every woman at every stage. While you won’t be perfect, remember that no one is, but working on it makes you one step ahead of the curve.