work-life balance

life balance defined

Life balance. I discussed 4 common myths and what it isn’t the other day. Now, it’s worth taking a look at what it is.

My definition:  life balance is the process of actively creating fulfillment in every major area of our lives: career, family, relationships, spirituality, health, hobbies, finances, etc.

The common definition seems to be: working less. When we’re overworked or stressed, we say we need more life balance and what we mean is we want less work. But working less doesn’t automatically balance our lives. If we’re overworked, working less will free up some time that we could use to find better balance, but that is neither automatic nor guaranteed.

I suspect that when most of us think of a balanced life we think of it as not having pain in any of the major areas. Yeah, that’s a start, but avoiding pain contracts and shrinks our lives while seeking fulfillment expands and opens our lives up. No pain vs fulfillment sounds similar, but it’s the difference between not starving and having plenty to eat, of not being poor and being financially secure, of not having enemies and having lots of friends, of never getting emotionally hurt and connecting deeply with the important people in your life, of not being ill and being vibrantly healthy, and so on. It is the difference between surviving and living.

This means that life balance is:

  • Dependent on you knowing what you find fulfilling. Life balance is about creating fulfillment, so if you don’t know what fulfills you it’s going to be really, really hard to create balance. When we don’t know what would be fulfilling we default to avoiding pain.
  • Different for everyone. We are all fulfilled by different things so be cautious about trying to imitate another’s life balance choices. They might work for you, but they might not.
  • Never finished. Balance is a dynamic process that is always shifting and changing. There is no finish line, there is no “done”. It is always subject to change as we face new circumstances and life events.
  • Dependent on opportunity costs and tradeoffs. We can’t spend 24 hours a day on each aspect of our lives so the key is knowing how much time and effort we need to give to each area and when.
  • All about priority management. Creating balance requires effectively managing our time and priorities.

The big questions are:

  • What are your priorities?
  • What would fulfillment look like in each major area of your life?
  • What would you need to do to create that?
  • Why is that important to you? Is it really, truly so important that you’re willing to do what it takes to get there, or does it just sound cool? Choose the things that matter to you so much you’re willing to work to get them.

I suspect I’m overcomplicating it. Life balance is simple (not easy; never easy). Be clear on what you want from life and what yo’re willing to do (and what you’re willing to forego) in order to get it. Then go do it.

4 life balance myths

Work/life balance. The Holy Grail of our modern age. We all want it, feel like we can never have it, and feel frustrated because of it. There are several myths that prevent us from really understanding what life balance is about and how we could achieve it.


Myth #1: We can have it all

A few years back, Jack Welch famously said, “There is no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.” And, of course, he was spot-on right. We want to believe that we can have it all, but we can’t. Time in a day is limited and any time we choose to spend doing one activity is time that we can’t choose to spend doing another. Jack referred to consequences, which is a bit of a loaded word because we tend to think of consequences as always being negative. Let me rephrase it as: we all make work-life choices and that creates certain results or outcomes.

Because my work-life choices have consequences (or outcomes), I need to be very clear on what outcomes I want and what choices will lead to those outcomes. If I want results X but am making choices that leads to results Y then I’m going to feel very dissatisfied and out of balance.

Balance requires clarity of outcomes and choices that support the outcomes we want.


Myth #2: There is such a thing as work-life balance

The term “work/life balance” is a huge misnomer and sets us up for failure. Work is a part of our life, not something separate acting against it. It would sound ridiculous to refer to sleep/life balance, meals/life balance, hobby/life balance, family/life balance, shopping/life balance, etc. Work is not something separate and thinking that our life stops while we’re on the clock at work and starts again once we’re home sounds like a great way to resent your job and be miserable for a significant portion of your life. Let’s instead focus on it as “life balance”. It’s a small, subtle, yet powerful difference.

Brian Tracy made a big impact on me when he said, “If you find that you have no desire to excel in your field, this is a good sign that it’s probably not the right job for you.” Paying the bills comes always comes first, but when we find ourselves living for the weekend, it’s time to either change how we’re thinking about our job or start considering other ways to pay the bills. All jobs, no matter how much we love them, are sometimes difficult and aggravating. The question is always: is it worth it? Life is far too long to be miserable 8+ hours every day.


Myth #3: Life balance is about hours worked

If you know what results you want, make choices that support those results , and enjoy every aspect of your life, the number of hours at work is largely meaningless. If you despise your job, even working a few hours a week would be miserable. If you love your job, living by the clock would be very frustrating. If given the choice between 40 hours of hellish soul robbing frustration or 60 hours of exciting, challenging, fulfillment, which would you rather have? Which would your family rather you have?

It’s not a choice between work or life. It’s about viewing work as a part of the whole life. Life balance requires seeking fulfillment in all areas of our life


Myth #4: There is a finish line to life balance

A major source of life balance frustration is thinking that it’s ever done. There is no finish line. We never, ever reach a point where we get to check “Balance Life” off of our To Do list.

The way it was explained to me years ago is that balancing life is a bit like balancing on one foot. Try it. Stand up and lift up one leg. It’s not particularly difficult to do, but notice how much you are actually moving your body, making small and subtle corrections. If you were to stand perfectly still, you couldn’t balance – you’d actually fall over. (It’s actually really, really difficult to stand perfectly still because your body knows better.)

Life balance is the same. It is dynamic, not static. Even when things are really going will and all in sync, you’ll still be making corrections. More time working one week, more time with the family another, less time on hobbies, and so on, all trading off as you balance the choices that will lead to the outcomes you want in all areas of your life.