For years, we've been reading and talking about achieving work-life balance, the idea that you really excel personally and professionally without neglecting either sphere, but is it really possible?
I asked random friends and followers on social media about how balance was working in their lives, and here are some highlights:
- A married mother of four struggled to achieve balance, so she became a stay-at-home mom and began a thriving small business;
- A single, childless nurse whose work life has eclipsed her personal life;
- A solopreneur and mom of two who changed jobs to spend more time with her children;
- A married mom of two who encourages others to ask for help and receive it when offered;
- A media professional and adjunct professor who received a warning for high stress from her physician.
Sounds like we're all finding our way by trial and error, but there's good news. Dr. Dawna Ballard, Associate Professor at the University of Texas-Austin, studies chronemics, the intersection of time and communication, and says trying to achieve work-life balance may be unrealistic because the outdated model doesn't accommodate the blurred line between personal and professional in today's society. "Just the language of work-life balance begins with this assumption that work and life are two separate things," she told us. "The challenge has been work-life balance becomes all about this weighing and comparing two things that are sort of at odds with each other."
Instead, Ballard suggests living and working in alignment, which focuses on the interdependence of work and life rather than putting them in competition with each other. "It's no longer talking about weighing two things, so when we talk about, 'Can we have it all?' that's still a mathematical question. There's no 'all' to be had if you're just talking about how interdependent things are. Are things working in concert with each other?"
Ballard gives us tips on how to transition to this updated way of living:
Find your core.
Alignment begins with figuring out what matters to you and working from those desires. Are you changing your focus to spend more valuable time with your family? Is your personal health a priority for now? When agreeing to do things, make sure they are aligned with what you really care about.
Respect your limits.
If your to-do list is jam-packed, it's likely you think you have to honor all of those requests. You don't and maybe you shouldn't. "Alignment reminds us that there is a demand-capacity issue that we have to consider," Ballard says.
Being attentive to how much you can take on will positively affect your physical, mental, and emotional health. "Someone else can do a million more things that I can't do, it's just not what I can do. I've got to respect it, and what that may mean is I've got to say 'no' to people."
Check-in with yourself.
You can use meditative practice of any kind as an intentional time to think about what is really necessary and what can be knocked off of your list according to your operating core. It does not have to be linked to spirituality or religion of any kind. If meditation doesn't work, use a sport or favorite hobby to tune in.
After you align, realign.
You won't get it "right" every time, and over time, some parts of your life will receive more attention than others. "We don't get to solve life, which is kind of what work-life balance presumes: There's some mathematical formula, but that's not the way life works," Ballard says. "That's not the way living beings work. We will change over time. We have to constantly be checking in with ourselves and modifying."
Modifications may include making life changes to even begin meaningful alignment. If your job or work isn't flexible enough to allow things to happen in tandem (we see you, micro-managers), Ballard says be intentional about increasing your skills and working on your strengths so you can transition to opportunities that best serve your core and result in more personal responsibility for your future.
You're doing your best day by day. Decide what's the most important and begin creating the life you need when you can.
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For as long as I can remember, I've been a bit preoccupied with the concept of age. I've always wanted to be grown, but never old. Making sure I'm "on trend" in terms of age and kind of life that goes along with it.
As time would have it, I realized that "old" is relative, and the closer you come to the age, it's not so old anymore. And every age below yours suddenly seems wildly young. I considered turning 30 to be THE milestone of my life, but even then, and years after, I felt I hadn't accomplished enough, and I was still making plenty of childish mistakes.
Recently, InStyle published two stories discussing age and its complexities. "The Mid-30s Awkward Phase No One Tells You About" (if you're slightly older than 35, the writer says you're in the number, too) and "Turning 40 is Hard. Turning 40 As a Black Women is Harder." I'm a mashup of these stories: a Black woman who's 37, a couple of years past 35, but not quite 40. I shared the articles with my circle, and we messaged back co-signs through emojis and gifs.
Quotes from both articles jumped out at me immediately. From "Turning 40 As a Black Woman is Harder":
"Turning 40 can be emotionally fraught for any woman — often triggering anxiety, depression, and feelings of inadequacy. Our culture tells us that by 40, we should be homeowners, happily married with kids, succeeding in our careers and saving for retirement. When we're missing any part of that equation, a sense of failure can creep in. That's all legitimately stressful, but focusing on it obscures the unique struggles faced by Black women approaching the milestone, particularly when it comes to career development and earning potential."
And from "The Mid-30s Awkward Phase No One Tells You About":
"You are never more aware of how special and unique you aren't, then at 35 when you're just paddling along and doing things and not breaking any records for being old nor young while doing them. Yet you're racing against the clock to get, as Glynnis MacNicol surmised, a clear sense of what you've got and what you'll do with it, so you have precisely zero time for anyone else's drama. You are more on your bullshit than possibly any other time."
I can relate more than I'd like to, and maybe you can, too, but there are more layers. How did we start glorifying these milestone ages and holding ourselves to whatever life events, epiphanies, and accomplishments that have been assigned to them?
The "awkwardness" of being in the middle of ages suggests that there's still some growing to do before you reach the golden age of completion. Saying turning 40 as a Black woman is harder than any other race suggests it's hard to turn 40 as any other woman, period (I believe this premise, by the way, as data supports it). But why is it hard? The difficult part isn't making it through another 365 days, but not living up to societal expectations, and sometimes our own.
When you hit those milestone ages or any age, it's a time for celebration, thankfulness, and reflection. What we do instead is replace or follow that up with "I'm X age, but what do I have to show for it?" This framing is unproductive and can be self-defeating.
While I love stories like the aforementioned and seeing myself in them, I can't wait to get to a time when we don't have to write and read them. When professional and personal endeavors and thought processes don't have a very specific number, or age, attached to them.
What we don't talk enough about is that no singular age is the end all be all. We should be learning, growing, checking boxes off throughout our entire lives. Not just to appease the appearance of a milestone.
Featured image by Getty Images