Mythology: Work-Life Balance
Yesterday someone came by my office for an informational interview. She was well-prepared and asked smart questions about the organization and the work itself. But then she asked, “How do you handle work-life balance?”
Sometimes I think that’s the equivalent of my two least favorite job interview questions: “What are your weaknesses?” and “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
But I think it can also be a very good question, because if taken seriously it can lead to a real discussion of what that means, and what it doesn’t mean.
Let’s start with what it doesn’t mean.
- Work-life balance does not mean that you can “have it all.”
- It does not mean that things are divided 50-50.
- It does not mean that you feel no tension between different parts of your life.
So what does it mean?
Well, for starters, I think we can have it all–just not all at once. Life is about choices, and we have to choose what we want to emphasize at any particular point. So if you work full-time and have a family and a home, you probably are not going to be able to excel at work, spend hours each day with your spouse and children, and keep floors so clean that you can eat off them.
Or maybe you can. But I’ll put good money on the likelihood that because you have those clean floors, you haven’t cleaned out the fast food wrappers in your car since last winter.
When you really get right down to it, there is no single equation for work-life balance. Sure, some people will tell you that there is–but somehow the answer they promote is always what they do. That’s great for them, but it may not work for you. So don’t worry about it.
Determine what matters to you. What do you value most? What are your priorities? What are your boss’s priorities, and your organization’s? Do what matters most, and don’t worry so much about the rest. Find ways to delegate, or revise your standards.
Then again, maybe we should all just move to Denmark.