Since the late 70’s people have been struggling with the work-life balance issue: the balance between an individual’s work and personal life. Lot’s has been written on this subject trying to give men and women alike a strategy to balance work and personal demands. The problem is achieving a balance is impossible.
In the past there were physical boundaries between our work and personal lives that helped keep them separated. The struggle with balance came down to the amount of time spent at each location. Today, technology has removed the physical boundaries and allowed work activities to infiltrate personal time; and, personal activities to infiltrate work time. Computers and PDAs are as central to our lives personally as they are our work.
We all have a disposition towards work and personal activities. You have heard the saying some “live to work” and others “work to live”. There is a continuum between the two views and each of us has our place on it. This disposition is not assigned to us; we choose it. It drives us to choose our profession, employer, and priorities.
The time demands for work and personal activities aren’t consistent from day to day, month to month, or year to year. Our work and personal lives have seasons. At work we have busy and slow times of the year. Projects have critical deadlines that must be met and new phases that give us a little break. The business climate can brings about cuts that require us to do more with less and good times that allows us to pursue new opportunities.
In our personal lives we have significant life events like weddings, the births of loved ones, and times we have to take care of aging parents and go to funerals. Our kids require a different level of support when they are adolescents than they do when the leave the home and live on their own. How we unplug on vacations can be a week crammed with adventure or time sitting quietly on a deck in the mountains.
Also, most employers don’t care if you find a balance. They make it easier to do work activities during personal time, while making it harder to do personal activities during work time. They care only about the seasons of work, not the personal ones.
With all of this thrown into the pot you can see how impossible it is to balance our work and personal lives. A better goal is to pursue an ebb and flow between the two. At any one time the mix between work and personal activities can be significantly out of whack, but a point in time needs to be visible when things will swing the other way.
It requires discipline and an understanding of what the consequences are for letting your disposition towards work and personal activities lead all the time. Those who “live to work” struggle to keep work in check and tend to not take enough time for their family, friends, and selves. Those who “work to live” struggle to meet the challenge of work activities and end up with less rewards and opportunities than co-workers.
It also requires paying attention to the signals around you. If you have been paying attention to work activities for too long you will start to dislike what you do and those close to you will let you know you have been absent. If you have been paying attention too long to personal activities your supervisor will let you know and you’ll become disgruntled with your employers view of your performance.
There is no silver bullet to feeling good about the mix of time you engage in work and personal activities. But, at least you now understand what forces are at play putting you in this uncomfortable predicament. You are the only one who can change it. Thankfully you know that the seasons will change and you can choose a time in the future to be different.