Is there a more over-used and empty phrase in modern life than work-life balance? I can’t think of one. Perhaps that’s because I am asked several times a week how I achieve it. I’m trying to find a happy medium between giggling uncontrollably and giving an answer that sounds creepily like Tilda Swinton’s wound-tighter-than-a-drum character in Michael Clayton (“Who needs balance? When you’re really enjoying what it is you do, there’s your balance.”).
When you are trying to do a lot of things well, simultaneously, you are going to be living with organized chaos, and hoping that the organization outweighs the chaos on any given day. I’m comfortable with the pace of my life because I’m not what you’d call a relaxed person (and I’d be so delighted if people would stop telling me to become so). I don’t consider ‘busy’ a four-letter word, other than in the literal sense. It gives me pleasure, and a sense of purpose, to operate at full capacity. That’s my choice.
Some days I feel that I’ve succeeded in my work. Some days I feel that I’ve succeeded as a parent, or a spouse, or a friend, or a daughter. But I rarely feel as though I’ve succeeded on all fronts in the same 24-hour period. Do I have work-life balance? Have I achieved a guilt-free equilibrium between all of the many roles that I play in my life? What do you think? (If you require additional information to answer this question, please refer to my novel, The Hole in the Middle.)
When my friend Luisa was pregnant with twins, her prenatal instructor encouraged her to adopt a ‘good enough’ parenting philosophy. Isn’t that refreshingly old-fashioned?
Back in the day, so-called career women could feed their children Hamburger Helper and Kraft Dinner and never show their faces in the schoolyard, and it was considered acceptable. Stay-at-home mothers may have felt extravagantly sorry for the families of that generation of working women, but there was no expectation that the working moms would run the parent council at school, fit into skinny jeans or bake gluten-free cupcakes for the class on birthdays in addition to working full-time.
We’d all be better off if we could ditch the idea that there’s a mythical state of balance out there, and that others have succeeded in achieving it. They haven’t. We are all trying to find the right combination of rest and action, of family and work, of ambition and acceptance, and of engagement with and retreat from the world. Some days we’ll get the formula right and feel like superwomen and other days we’ll get it wrong and feel like dismal failures.
The only wisdom I can offer is this: if you aren’t having any fun, your expectations of yourself are probably too high. Or, as Lil Parker says in The Hole in the Middle: “No one is going to hand you a medal at the end of all of this because you ran faster and harder than everyone else. The point is to enjoy it.” So forget about work-life balance, and try instead for joy in the midst of chaos. It sounds like more fun, doesn’t it? And even better, it’s actually achievable.