Finding work-life balance: Chore or joyful pursuit?
Friday, July 18, 2014
Work-life balance is a topic of frequent discussion on blogs, social media and in the academic literature. As the speed of life increases, is it possible that the dogged pursuit of balance can actually become just another treadmill upon which we unwittingly run ourselves ragged?
Chore or joy?
As a coach, I encourage my clients to pursue work-life balance in whatever way that resonates with their lives. Whether it's decreasing work hours, increasing time away from the Internet, exercising or cultivating a hobby, there are many ways in which we can attempt to strike more balance between our personal and professional lives.
One of the risks of a "full-court press" in pursuit of work-life balance is that the actual pursuit can become yet another chore to which we feel inexorably chained.
Let's say you signed up for a pottery class to have a place to blow off steam, get out of your head and increase your overall life satisfaction. If getting to your pottery class twice a week translates into extra stress in terms of arranging child care, shopping and fulfilling other obligations in your life, you may eventually resent the class, seeing it as just another chore rather than as the source of joy it was intended to be.
Can this situation be remedied? Possibly, but some individuals make multiple sacrifices in deference to balance, suffering the consequences of working altogether too hard to find it.
Women doing it all
Since women comprise approximately 90 percent of the nursing workforce, let's focus on them for a moment.
The cultural revolutions of the mid- to late-20th century led women from housewife subservience to lives wherein women found their place in boardrooms, CEO offices and the upper reaches of many professions — glass ceilings notwithstanding. While this has been a boon to women, it has also led to a backlash wherein women feel that their balance has been sacrificed as they strive to fulfill increased professional expectations while still doing the lion's share of work in the home.
Hardworking women are expected to defer family life and personal needs in service to the demands of the workplace. And even as women have risen in the ranks of healthcare, we can surmise that, here too, women carry a heavy load both at work and at home.
Was this really the goal for women — to gain power and authority while simultaneously losing the ability to find balance? I think not, but many professional women apparently suffer from this unfortunate conundrum.
Balance as journey, not destination
In light of the notion that a quest for balance can increase stress, perhaps the secret for some professionals — including hard-working nurses — is to seek balance with an eye toward a graceful acknowledgment that life can be messy and balance difficult to achieve.
Rather than viewing balance as a destination, perhaps we can embrace balance as a lifelong work in progress, a continuum that necessitates water, compost and nurturing care over time, not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Embracing (a little) chaos
Let's face it — some days will feel wonderfully balanced, and some days will feel like a surrealistic, stress-filled nightmare. We can embrace the reality that there will be weeks that are simply out of balance, with little that can be done in the moment other than taking deep breaths and remaining mindful that "this too shall pass."
As Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote in "Full Catastrophe Living," his seminal book on mindfulness: "It is not that mindfulness is the 'answer' to all life's problems. Rather, it is that all life's problems can be seen more clearly through the lens of a clear mind."
Balance, not perfection
The pursuit of perfection is a laudable thing, but if that pursuit is itself a stressor that tips the scales toward intolerable chaos, perhaps it's time for re-evaluation. Some chaos is inevitable, but our methods must fit the goals, and if we strive for balance through the mechanism of obsession or compulsion, we may likely be missing the point.
Pursue balance not as a static state, but as a journey that will certainly have its own peaks and valleys. Balance is not perfection, but simply an ongoing goal. Seek balance without browbeating yourself for sometimes missing the boat.
Balance is not perfection. It's simply a state we can periodically achieve when our personal stars align and we find ourselves "in the zone" as we ride the waves.
Enjoy the journey, and enjoy the balance that periodically comes your way, even as the waves of chaos crash around your feet. The destination is the here and now, and how you get there is up to you.
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