Is Balance Even Possible?

Thursday, February 6. 2014

The day after I wrote last week’s blog post about the missing ingredient to having a balanced life I was at an event mentoring young women and high school girls on their careers and life. One of the speakers said the following to this group of young women (and room full of business owners):  “Yes, you can work 70-80 hours a week and have a family.  You can do whatever you want but balance…? There is no such thing as balance, so forget that! You just have to find a way to manage it all satisfactorily.”

As you can imagine, I wanted to jump up and pull her off the stage and tell those young women to not listen to her!  But, I refrained, as it would have been disrespectful and inappropriate.   Thankfully I got to speak one-on-one with many of those young women later in the day so also got a chance to hear what they thought of that idea of working 70-80 hours a week.  I was happy to hear that most of them thought it was a bit odd.  Many said, “If I worked that much, how would I have any energy or time left to do anything else?”   What wise young women!

Hearing this speaker got me thinking further about this topic of living a balanced life.  Obviously balance means different things to different people.  Many people love their work so spending 70-80 hours a week on it many bring them complete joy.    However, given we all have to sleep (some more than others), if you spend that much time working and a decent amount of time sleeping, that doesn’t leave a whole lot of time left to do anything else; especially if you have any sort of commute to and from work.   My experience the past 20 years has demonstrated that working that much leaves little time for anything else.   Most women I know and work with have personal lives they want to devote their time and energy to, as well as their career.   And, as I mentioned in last week’s post, we cannot forget about the number one ingredient to creating a sense of calm in your life, time for you.

Although I agree with what that woman said about you being able to do whatever you want, I disagree that you can work 70-80 hours a week, have a family and other interests and “manage” your way to satisfaction.  I’ve seen countless people try and end up exhausted, overwhelmed and incredibly dissatisfied; maybe not right away but eventually if you keep up this pace, something will give and it’s usually you.    And perhaps when this woman said, “there is no such thing as balance, you just have to find a way to manage it all satisfactorily” she really meant that if you can manage all your responsibilities in life satisfactorily, that is your definition of balance.  I think I may be twisting her words a bit because I have a hard time supporting making those kinds of statements to young women and high school girls.

We should not forget balance nor tell young women that they cannot have it.  You can have balance in your life – you just have to decide what that means and what balance feels like to you.   It means something different to everyone and looks different at each stage of life.

For me and the countless clients I’ve worked with over the years, I haven’t seen a good example of someone being able to work 70-80 hours in a week and feel as if they are living a balanced, or ‘managed’ life.  You only have so much time and energy to expend and if you’re expending that much of it in one area, the others usually give.   We all have the same 168 hours in a week.  The questions to answer are: how do you choose to spend them and how are you feeling, both physically and emotionally, about how you’re spending them?    And, as I mentioned last week, if you spend some of those hours on nurturing yourself, the others will flow much easier, no matter where you choose to spend them.

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