What is your definition of work-life balance? Like our priorities, it varies from person to person. But this fact sometimes gets lost in translation and understandably so. Take a look at the definition of balance for one. Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.” Naturally, one would be inclined to think and/or treat work and life as two separate elements instead of parts of a whole.
With this in mind, how would you approach achieving work-life balance? Is having the ‘best of both worlds’ just a pipe dream at this point?
We spoke to Jo-anne, a mother of two (ages 10 and 8 years old) and an Office Manager about this. She shared, “I personally feel that it is nearly impossible to have the best of both worlds. It is difficult to be successful in both work life and family life. In today’s demanding society, sacrifices have to be made in order to succeed in one’s chosen career. (The term “career” can be either in a professional field or as a wife & mother). I chose to take a back seat in my law career and settled for a supporting role in the Firm. It is less rewarding, but it gives me flexibility.”
Before you set off on your quest for balance, it is vital to have your priorities in check. And before you do that, it would be best to understand what work-life balance is really all about. It is easy to get caught up in the idea but reality isn’t a pretty painted landscape; stagnant with no variables.
Here are some common misconceptions about work-life balance:
1. Keep your work within office hours = you’re closer to balance
What better view to debunk this misconception than that of a working mother. Jo-anne tells us, “As a working mom, I would like to think that everything is possible as long as you put your mind to it. On an ordinary weekday, I put on my working cap and be professional when I am in the office (usually between 8.30 am to 3 pm), I focus on my job. When I pick my kids up from school after 3.45pm, I put on my parenting cap and focus on my children. When the children go to bed at night, I sometimes return to the working cap to finish up my office work. However, it is easier said than done. There are days where I can’t focus and separate the two ‘jobs'”.
Truth: People are inclined to believe that if you restrict your working hours or if you work fewer hours – you will be happier. But this doesn’t do much for symmetry. Some days you have to work extra hours, some days you won’t. It boils down to your priorities, the decisions you make and boundaries you set daily.
There are many factors that come into play. True balance isn’t just about how many hours you work, it requires a holistic approach. It’s taking into account your family priorities, health and wellness, leisure activities and long-term goals. It’s about what makes you feel fulfilled in the long run.
2. There’s a ‘one-approach-fits-all’ for work-life balance
In the case of the working mom, Jo-anne explains, “I had this discussion with my husband years ago. We have decided to work together to create this Work-life balance for the family. He focuses on working life while I focus on family life.
He travels often and doesn’t get to spend much time with the family on weekdays, but he provides us with a comfortable life. On the other hand, my priority is my family. I make sure that the household and the children are well-taken care of. I try to resolve domestic issues without having to trouble my husband much.”
Truth: News flash, what works for one person may not work exactly the same way for you. Again, this boils down to a person’s priorities. Are you single? married? with kids? got a medical condition? taking care of ailing parents? Each circumstance requires a different approach.
3. The perfect split is always 50/50 between work and life
“Every working parent would ideally try to balance between working life and family life. If there is some spare time left, maybe they can squeeze in some social life as well. That’s what all working parents are trying to do – juggle both roles to the best they can. The important thing is to manage expectations in whatever we are doing.
For example, if a mother chooses to advance her career, she cannot expect to provide the best care for her children. She would need third party assistance (be it her parents, domestic helper, day care etc)… and vice versa, if a mother chooses to have flexible working hours, she can provide better care for her children and watch them grow, but she cannot expect to climb the corporate ladder and have a successful career.”
Truth: Whichever way you split it, there’s a compromise attached. It’s not so much choosing the lesser of two evils, it’s more about setting realistic expectations and boundaries. If there’s a time sensitive project at work – your focus shifts. If there’s an emergency at home – your focus shifts again. So there isn’t really a 50/50 split. It’s just 100% life and how you choose to live each day.
In conclusion, activity and pause are both necessary for a fulfilling life. The one thing you should be thinking about when it comes to work-life balance is deciding when to press play or hit pause.