Work-life balance: It may not be possible

Posted on November 29, 2016 in: Articles

By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

Director, Yeshua Institute

God bless Julie Winkle Giulioni.

The co-author of Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want, says achieving a work-life balance may not be possible, at least not as a permanent state.

Her proposition gets my second – especially this time of the year when our schedules are more packed than Santa’s sleigh.

Giulioni suggests that instead of striving to achieve a constant and enduring balance among our many roles, we should think in terms of achieving a work-life blur – rather like a range within which we move back and forth among our various roles.

“A blur offers a broader corridor of what’s acceptable, allowing for the natural swings of the pendulum of life over time,” she explains. “A blur is more forgiving. Veer a little left or right of the centerline and it doesn’t matter -- it’s not even noticed. And a blur provides a wider strike zone to get it right, reducing the debilitating guilt so many workers feel as they consistently fail to achieve the balance they so deeply desire.”  

In Primary Greatness: The 12 Levers of Success, Stephen Covey says much the same thing. Even as he writes, “If we don’t live by the principle of balance, we will crash,” he also concedes: “Accept gratefully a season of imbalance, but view it from a long-term perspective.”

He says that getting an advance degree or handling a major project at work might require intense focus. “Today’s imbalance may be natural and necessary from the perspective of the week, month, or year,” and “during times of sacrifice and focus, avoid guilt and take a long-term perspective,” he advises.

Of course, we have to be careful we are not deceiving ourselves – focusing on work while ignoring our important relationships and letting them fall apart.

We always have to pay attention to our key relationships -- even if we can’t pay them as much attention at the moment as we would like. And sometimes we have to get creative.

When I took my first journalism job right out of college, it required that I work most weekends and then put in 12-16 hour days Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday I was done about noon or 1 p.m. – but I truly was done after the grind I had just been through.

Yet, I was a husband and a dad to two preschoolers. So I took most Thursdays off to spend with my family, and if I was covering sports on the weekend, I often took the family with me.

Ideal? No. But we soon learned to cherish our Thursdays. The parks were quieter. The lines at attractions were shorter or non-existent. We were together. Over 40 years later, we still are.