Work-Life Balance is a Big Fat Lie

 

I have a hit or miss relationship with work-life balance.

Some weeks I want to laugh at my co-workers for working all weekend, but the next week I find myself pulling out my laptop on Saturday morning.

So what’s the deal?

Is this balance thing a myth?

Seriously, is it made up by baby boomers who don’t have boatloads of debt? By millennials who have no clue what they are talking about?

What is balanced anyway?

According to Merriam-Webster, “balance” means:

1: a steady position or condition

2: something left over : remainder 

3: an instrument for weighing

4: a state in which things occur in equal or proper amounts

5: the amount of money in a bank account

6:  an amount of money still owed

Balance has so many meanings, it’s funny to think about the different ways you can interpret work-life balance. You could say that work and personal life will always have a steady amount of time. Or, you could say that what’s “left over” after work is what you have time for to devote to personal matters. Or you could say work-life balance is the way we measure how much weight we’re giving work and our social lives, a way to analyze our time and priorities. The amount of money in your bank account is directly impacted by the amount you work or don’t work. Ditto with the amount of money owed. My favorite… is when “balance” means “proper” distribution. Proper is so subjective, and I need subjective. I need to be able to say that the standard 60 hour work week is not appropriate.

So I guess work-life balance isn’t so much a myth as a pretty vague term.

Let’s redefine it. Like I said, I love the phrase “proper” distribution. It gives you the ability to judge what “balanced” means for you. For me, I think my balance needs to include time to myself to be creative, time with my husband, time to spoil my pup, and time to help my clients.  The pie chart doesn’t have to be equal, but all of these parts have to be represented. If I’m being honest, the time with my family, being creative, and spoiling my pup outweighs the worky stuff. So if I’m going to have the right balance, the “proper” distribution, I’ll be able to make time for more of those things in my life. Easier said than done.

I grew up with a mother who is a teacher…

Teaching, as you might already know, is the world’s most thankless task: the pay is awful, the parents aren’t supportive, and teachers are constantly asked to do more with less. The angelic humans who fill that role, the teachers, they fill the gaps for your kids on their own time. My mom spent every night when I was younger grading papers or planning new exciting lessons. So I know what goes into teaching… and I decided never to be a teacher. I decided to be a helper, which as it turns out is the same damn thing. So when I took my first job as a school SLP, I was only a little surprised to find myself working nights and weekends.

 

I’m such a dummy. I was so angry that I worked for not-enough pay with a master’s degree. A master’s degree that cost me an exorbitant amount of money that I will be paying off until I’m 40… I was disgusted and frustrated that I was creating a lifestyle that cannot be sustained. Most of all, I was pissed that I had fallen into the same trap as my Mom. I was giving my time to make up for systemic school-based issues. So I left.

Guess what! When you’re a helper, working and thinking about others outside of the job is the nature of the beast. At every job I have had since graduating, and there have been a couple, I have found it difficult to shut my brain off when I get home. It’s really hard to stop thinking about your people when you get home. Some days, I am wracked with anxiety thinking about my clients. Some days, I feel like I’m driving the struggle bus.

Do you find yourself hating the imbalance?!

What can we do?

Obviously I have no clue, but here are some things I’ve learned from people who are smarter than me. I think a lot of the anxiety I feel because of my helping career can decrease when I try these tips:

1.) Stop thinking in black and white

I love rules. I’m a rule follower. Give me a rule and I will follow it to the T. So, when I moved in with my husband, I told myself I would never bring work home. About two weeks later I was guiltily sneaking home my work laptop and plugging away at IEP’s. I was so angry, guilty, and sad. If I hadn’t set a hard barrier between work and home, and instead had said I might work at home, but it will be for one hour and only Monday through Friday, then I still might have been sad, but I wouldn’t have been angry or guilty.

2.) Don’t Filter Out The Positive

At the end of the workday I get home and my sweet sweet husband has usually made dinner already (I get home late and he gets hangry). I often find myself grumbling. Yes, grumbling in the face of a home-cooked meal made by the world’s sweetest husband.  I grumble about my day and downgrade the good stuff that happened. Typically I forget about all of the good things and remember the rough patches. And there are good things, like the little boy last week who was trying so hard to say my name that it went from “Kaywa” to “Klayla.” I find myself telling about my day and sharing only my frustrations. It can’t be good for either of us that I bring home a cloud of negativity each night. I feel like Eeyore! I have a co-worker who doesn’t ever tell her boyfriend about her day because “he won’t get it.” She goes home and doesn’t talk about work? What do they talk about then? I tried it tonight and you know what? I loved connecting about our mutual interests. I loved the positive vibes I felt from our conversation.

3.) Replace “have to’s” with “choose to’s”

Give yourself back some control. Instead of “I have to go to work tomorrow” say “I choose to go to work tomorrow because it’s really rewarding when the kids do well!” or “I’m choosing to go to work tomorrow because I really want to spend my bonus on cute shoes.”

Let me know how you manage your work-life balance stress in the comments below. I’d love to get some new strategies 🙂

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