Work-life balance is a myth

Are you trying to achieve work-life balance? Do you feel that this is what’s needed to bring more happiness and fulfilment to your life? I used to think this too. There is a lot of talk about work-life balance in which there should be some equilibrium between our job and our personal life but I no longer agree with this concept because balance is a very difficult thing to achieve and perhaps not what we should all be aiming for.

Perhaps you can relate to this but in the past, I have definitely felt the pressure to be striking a ‘balance’ between my work and personal life and this in itself I found stressful because it’s very difficult to achieve! The belief that we should have work-life balance and that we can’t thrive in our lives without ‘balance’ but what does thriving look like to you? Because I think this is a very individual thing so what works for you, what you need and desire right now will be different to me and what’s more, different times in our lives call for different approaches as our priorities shift and move.

What does a good day look like to you? To me I want to be able to sleep enough, eat the right food at the right time, move everyday and do work that I love and enjoy in a way that I feel engaged.

In terms of priorities right now, currently I’m on a mission to make the world less stressed and that’s all encompassing and I’m excited and passionate about it so some days I spend a lot of time working, even at the weekends but it makes me happy, it brings me joy and I believe that as long as it’s not affecting my health and I’m able to maintain it then why should I be clocking off at 5pm just because society has said that’s the end of the working day? Perhaps I actually went running earlier during my working day.

Over my years as a doctor my life was anything but balanced and I’m not sure it could be. Being a doctor is a vocation and for many years especially during the early years training it’s really hard for anyone to find balance between their work and their personal lives and I know that this is the case with many other professions.

What was lacking for me during this time was very little, if any, flexibility in the system to allow me to fulfil specific needs and priorities in my personal life including doing the things that were important to maintain my mental and physical health and I think this is grossly wrong. How can you have doctors treating patients and advising them on their health if you are not providing a system that allows the doctors to look after their own wellbeing? And that’s the same for any profession. For employees to do a good job, they need to be able to support their personal needs and requirements outside of work.

We need time to recharge, connect with people and do things that bring us joy and yes, not be stuck in front of our screens for 12 hours a day, engage with nature and do all those things that we know are good for us and we enjoy BUT at times in our life whether it be due to a new relationship that we are pursuing or a new project we are working on that we love and want to do well, we will be anything but balanced! And that’s OK and actually quite normal.

To me work-life balance should really be called work-life flow. We need to be allowed to move a bit more freely between our jobs and our personal lives so that we are fulfilling our work duties and responsibilities but we are able to do what we need in our personal lives to keep our ship well maintained and moving in the right direction so we can bring the best of ourselves to our work every day.

Ultimately life keeps moving and nothing is ever static but the systems we work under are often rigid and inflexible and do not allow for us to change and evolve as life unfolds. At times our personal lives may need more attention. We get sick and need to focus on our health. We have children and raising them and our family unit is all encompassing. Equally our roles and responsibilities at work change and our job may require more time and focus. This is life and it is ever changing.

Rather than seeing our careers and our personal lives as two opposing forces, we need to find a way of bringing them together and moving between them with greater ease and flow, where we are not feeling overburdened, under huge amounts of pressure and stress and unrealistic expectations. This way we are able to continue through life in a more happy and sustainable way.

Employers need to help employees move with greater ease between their careers and their personal lives so they can continue to show up in the best way to fulfil their roles and responsibilities but also maintain what they need to in their personal life and unfortunately no amount of corporate yoga classes will achieve this.

It’s about employees having more autonomy and flexibility in their work so they can flow between their work and personal life in a way that allows them to stay in good mental and physical health whilst staying curious, energised and engaged by the work that they do but this won’t always look balanced.

Increasing autonomy in our work is key if we are going to feel happy, fulfilled and maintain good health and both employees and employers need to take responsibility for this.

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