Reframing Work-Life “Balance” for Reality

At the heart of work-life balance are great intentions. And yet, the time is ripe for a jolt of reality and a dose of personalization. Let’s reframe work-life balance so we can thrive!

Consider for a minute the word balance and the contexts in which we hear it. Do you believe Congress will ever agree upon a “balanced budget?” Even the balance beam in gymnastics can be dangerous if you’re not careful. Consider a “balancing act”—is it really all just an act, an idealistic charade?

These negative contexts undermine the very idea of balance as something real and achievable. Has the concept of work-life balance become an idealistic fantasy? Rather than a “balancing act” that leaves you maxed out, consider a new concept: work-life harmony. Don’t think for a moment that we’re simply swapping out one unrealistic ideal for another. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines harmony as “a pleasing or congruent arrangement of parts” and “an interweaving of different accounts into a single narrative.” If balance feels like a broken record, see if this approach might brighten your view.

To successfully move from your current reality to your new era of work-life harmony, you’re going to need a plan. Start with crafting your written life plan, one that reflects your vision for your future. According to the authors of Becoming a Resonant Leader (which is full of useful exercises), the process begins with the “need to first realize or reconnect with what is most important to us and who we are. This gives us the energy and the motivation to look closely at what is currently working for us and what is getting in our way.” Honest soul searching involves time, patience, and even frustration, but the payoff is invaluable. Are you ready to get off the broken record?

It’s up to you to customize what work-life harmony means for you, your career and your family. Your life will evolve over time—as you age, change jobs, maybe find a mate, if you become a parent or grandparent and when you retire. Think of each day as a different song; each life phase, an album. Each one is just your style, and work-life harmony helps each one gracefully transition into the next.

Your life plan should consider the most important elements: family and friends, community, health, faith and career. Treat these as separate buckets where you can list goals, objectives and the specific actions necessary to achieve them. It’s helpful to break out various timeframes, such as 6-12 months from now, 1-5 years, 5-10 years, maybe even 10-20 years.

To help you visualize your future self, think about what age you’ll be at each timeframe and the context of your family. Feel free to start with this handy template, but use any format that works best for you. Look for opportunities to achieve goals from two different areas simultaneously, such as jogging or playing tennis together as a family (physical health and family).

Maybe there are areas that are slightly off key. Look for adjustments that can bring your life in tune. Perhaps it’s altering your schedule at work or delegating more household chores. Are there acquaintances or unnecessary work requests you need to say no to? Relinquish them—graciously, of course. Saying no to the things that aren’t part of your vision is a critical part of turning your dreams into realities.

On the other hand, maybe you’re singing the wrong songs altogether. Is a career change in order? That little voice in your head might be saying: “But, I can’t…” or “How will I ever find the time?” Go ahead and acknowledge these thoughts. They are real. Use them as you define practical steps in your life plan.

Once you’ve created your life plan, discuss it with someone you trust. The act of expressing a goal out loud to another person creates an environment of accountability. Then get going! Start taking baby steps toward fulfilling your vision. And just imagine, you wake up one year from now—or 10, 20, or even 50 years from now—and your life is full of meaning. The journey there starts today and it starts with you!