The Myth of Work-Life Balance
In the ongoing crusade to make us all feel like bad parents and/or lazy workers, the rallying cry heard in most media outlets is to find the "work-life balance," which is only slightly easier to pin down than the Sasquatch, Loch Ness Monster, or an Adam Sandler movie after 1999 that was even remotely funny.
That's because like those examples, it's a myth. And it's total bullshit. Work less. Spend more time at home with the family. But bust your ass at work, have a reputation for giving 100%, because if you don't there's that lingering fear that you'll be laid off. And set a good example by working hard, but don't let those vacation days get away from you! You earned those!
...and don't even get me started on the Europeans and how much time they get off, because their economy is SOOOOO much better than ours right now.
Anyway, as a freelance copywriter, I feel it, too. I want to take on all the jobs. Write all the words. Do all the ads. But the whole point of this gig is to set my own schedule, to have more free time. And I love picking my kids up from school and coaching their sports teams. Or having time to actually plan a good dinner on a Wednesday (not that THAT always happens). I won't say that I enjoy helping with homework, but at least I'm here.
But sometimes, I've gotta work late. Or mad early. Or miss a game or practice because despite my best efforts, I have a late afternoon meeting. I've brought my laptop on vacation to work on stuff because it had to be done. AND I DIDN'T HAVE A BOSS TELLING ME TO DO IT. On the flip side, I've had lulls so long that I remodeled the kids' playroom, alone, on a Tuesday. And I've sat here at home with my kids under the guise of spending more time with them, only to have them completely ignore me and go do something else.
But the guilt lingers. Because you're not balancing it. And all the talking heads on TV and mommy bloggers and career experts and 22-year-old childless CEOs all say you're doing it wrong. Balance. Balance. BAAAAAALLLANCE!
But here's where the work-life balance is a myth. Because it's never a balance. Balance implies equity -- some perfect world where I spend the exact same amount of time and effort on "home" vs. "work" obligations. Never mind the fact that those same bloggers and talking heads and CEOs aren't exactly balancing things if they're spending all their time on TV telling us how we screwed up. But no matter what you do, right or wrong, you feel guilty because it's not balanced.
So, based on the examples above, it's actually more of a pendulum. It swings one way, then it swings the other. Sometimes you have to work a weekend. Or every weekend for a month. Other times, you get an unexpected day off with the kids because of a snowstorm or say "screw it" and skip work to go on their field trip.
So can you check work e-mails less after closing time? And can you focus a little more at work and not fall down the Internet rabbit hole that has you looking up at 3:30 and wondering where the day went? The same rabbit hole that then forces you to work late or bring it home and miss tucking the kids in? Can you let the kids stay up a little so you can finish that Lego set and hear more about their day? Yep. All of the above.
But overall, let the guilt go. You're trying your best.
And toss the damn scale.
© 2014 Kwame DeRoché