This week, I was challenged by my colleagues Marzena and Emma at one of our team meetings to be more open about sharing my work-life balance expertise. Sometimes, I can be cautious about doing this, perhaps somewhat due to “imposter syndrome”, but also out of reluctance to portray myself as an expert. However, my colleagues reminded me that it does not necessarily take an expert to share expertise. By sharing, we are not necessarily saying we are the sole authority on a given topic, but instead, we are simply sharing our learning and experience in the hope that it may help or inspire others. So, I embraced this challenge and have compiled a list of work-life balance myths that I have uncovered over the years.
Myth #1 – Work-life balance experts are among us
I would like to start this challenge with some crucial points. Firstly, I want to reiterate that I am not a work-life balance expert! Maybe some years ago I thought I was or I believed I would become one, but now I know that I’m not, and never will be, because I have come to the belief that work-life balance experts do not exist.
And by “work-life balance expert”, I mean a person who has developed the perfect system that allows them to teach anyone how to be balanced in their work and life. Honestly, I don’t believe that such a system exists. I have read hundreds of articles, books, and guides on work-life balance. I have attended lectures, listened to podcasts, and watched dozens of TED Talks. And what I have concluded is that the work-life balance practitioners I have engaged with are experts, but only in terms of their own individual balance. It is good and valuable for them to share their knowledge, tools, and experience with the world, but what works for them will not necessarily work for everyone. It can only serve as inspiration and insight.
So, I will not say that I am a work-life balance expert, but I will say that I am continually striving to become an expert on my own personal work-life balance. When I discover new tools or ideas that help me on this journey (for example, mindfulness), I like to share this in the hope that others will find it useful too. But, always bear in mind that what works for me may not work for you. You are the only one who can be an expert in your own work-life balance, and I can only try to help you achieve that.
Myth #2 – Work-life balance is about effective time management
Time management skills are increasingly important in our fast moving world. And I truly wish that as a skill, time management was incorporated into our education systems as early as possible so that, even from primary level, children were taught to make choices, prioritise, and schedule their tasks.
However, when it comes to work-life balance, time management is just the tip of the iceberg. As a young woman, I tried to be extremely organised and my understanding of “organised” was to complete everything on my to-do list every day. I remember feeling constantly frustrated and disappointed in myself when this proved to be impossible or left me exhausted. I wanted to feel satisfied, happy, and relaxed at the end of a productive day and I thought I could only achieve that by doing more.
It took me years to see the rest of the iceberg. As I got to know my needs and values, I realised that my life is not and should not be an endless to-do list, and I shouldn’t value myself by how efficiently I get through it. I started to devote more of myself to self-acceptance, focusing on the here and now, and managing my energy. In doing so, I learned how I should spend my time to achieve that sense of satisfaction that I craved.
Myth #3 – Work-life balance is about “having”
Having more time, having less work, having more rest, having passions, having more money.
No. This is not work-life balance. Or, I should say, it is not that simple.
My very best friend and fantastic coach Jola told me once that when she asks her clients how they think they could improve their work-life balance; they talk about adding something to their lives. They think that if they do more sport, or spend more time with their family, or get a better job, they will feel more balanced. However, they were only in Jola’s office because of burnout, exhaustion, lack of motivation, and often depression. They simply did not have space in their lives for anything more and yet they felt they needed more to achieve balance.
For me, work-life balance is more about how and what I want to feel. And feelings are very much connected with my values. You can read all about how to identify your core values in this article by my colleague Emma. On my short list I have:
- Love – I want to love and I want to be loved
- Freedom – I want to feel internal freedom and autonomy
- Serenity – I want to feel calm
- Joy – I want to play and have fun
There are plenty of opportunities to experience each of these values every day. Of course, I often overlook opportunities and let days slip by without thinking of my values, and perhaps this is why I am certainly no work-life balance expert! But I do try to improve every day.
Finally, I want to finish this “expert” blog by saying that I am not even a proponent of the term work-life balance. Really! There is only one world from this term that I like: Life. Work is a part of your life. We still live while at work, don’t we? It is strange to me that work becomes something we have to somehow reconcile with our lives. My preferred term is “life balance”, as whether we are working or at home, we are still trying to balance our lives to achieve satisfaction and fulfilment. And what that looks like can differ from person to person. For me, it is a set of feelings I desire in my life. What does it mean to you?