Work Life Balance or Quicksand
Work life balance. It’s a phrase that can easily be added to the list of buzz words we regularly hear discussed. As if somehow we hold the scales of our lives in a constant struggle for equilibrium. Why do we approach work and life as separate? Or even worse, as work vs. life – nurturing an image of our days as finite resources that form the battlefield on which these two arch enemies contend. In fact, work is part of our life. The two are inextricably intertwined, impacting on each other in an unending dance.
And yet, we are continually pressed with this buzz word, and in response find ourselves attempting to achieve the elusive work/life balance by ratcheting everything up simultaneously. Work harder and play harder. Be busier at both. Yet, wellness is not the answer to overwork, less work is. And urgently pursuing renewal activities is not the answer to weariness, time is. Think of the counterproductive effect of someone shouting at you to “CALM DOWN!”
So what are we really seeking when we talk about balance? Is it less about balancing opposing forces and more about inclusion and connectivity?
What does it mean to live into both our work and our lives? What does it look like to consistently show up in your work and your life as your whole self? Is there some equation of time, quality, and intention that unlocks balance? Can we find mindful moments at work? How are our personal and professional resilience linked?
Maybe it’s about forgetting everything else and nurturing our whole selves. Maybe it’s about developing our regular practice – taking care of our inner and outer selves, building our resilience, and bringing that centered, whole person everywhere we go in everything we do. And maybe it’s about looking through our whole-self lens to see others’ whole selves, to connect on a deeper level of humanity beyond emails and meeting rooms.
Then again, perhaps it’s not about control at all. Perhaps we can’t actually balance our lives and live into our whole selves by trying, struggling, and hustling. Maybe this is one of those places we can only reach by letting go. Like quicksand, the harder we struggle, the deeper we sink. Yet if we let go and listen in stillness, we find ourselves rising.
I’ve been sitting with this poem by Mark Nepo recently. I hope it speaks to you as well.
by Mark Nepo
I’ve been watching stars
rely on the darkness they
resist. And fish struggle with
and against the current. And
hawks glide faster when their
wings don’t move.
Still I keep retelling what
happens till it comes out
the way I want.
We try so hard to be the
main character when it is
our point of view that
keeps us from the truth.
The sun has its story
that no curtain can stop.
It’s true. The only way beyond
the self is through it. The only
way to listen to what can never
be said is to quiet our need
to steer the plot.
When jarred by life, we might
unravel the story we tell ourselves
and discover the story we are in,
the one that keeps telling us.