In this episode:
- What is work-life balance?
- How work-life balance contributes to burnout
- How to create a healthy work-life balance
Listen to the podcast here:
The Truth About Work-Life Balance
Women are often told that they can have it all, but does work-life balance really exist, or is it something that is propped up by the patriarchy and capitalism?
In this episode, we’re going to explore the meaning of work-life balance, how we’re doing it wrong, and what we can do instead to create a life where we can prioritize what’s most important to us and leave the rest. Ready? Let’s get started.
Hello, hello! I wasn’t sure what to talk about this episode until I came across a Twitter thread that a friend shared on Facebook about work-life balance—and inspiration struck—and here we are.
I technically have a Twitter account. I never use it—I don’t get it. Twitter confuses me. I would rather just read things that other people think are interesting on Twitter!
Work-life balance is a myth. I’ll get it out of the way right up front. I think this Twitter thread is the perfect example of what “real life” often actually looks like—not the glamorized version of real life that we see on the internet, but actual real life, especially for women.
I’m going to read you the tweets that spoke to me the most, “One time I was at a Q&A with Nora Roberts and someone asked her how to balance writing and kids. She said that the key to juggling is to know that some of the balls you have in the air are made of plastic and some are made of glass.”
That was the first tweet in the thread. The commentary on that tweet was people were pointing out articles that had been written by men—I’ve seen a few done by women as well—that’s basically like life is a series of five balls. You’re juggling these balls. Life is a series of five. They usually consist of some version of work, family exercise, relaxation or free time, and friends—or some iteration of those five things.
Usually, the catch is that you can only choose to catch three or whatever. I’ve seen some of them boil down to as few as three things—and you can only choose two of them. The message is still, some things get dropped and some things get juggled.
There were other people who were interpreting it to say like, “Your kids are always the glass balls.” The original person who tweeted this comment came back to the original thread, after it went viral. She said, “Nora was not talking about juggling five balls. She was talking about juggling 55 balls. The balls don’t represent family or work. They’re separate balls for everything that goes into each of those categories: Deadline on project Y, or Crazy Sock Day at school. Her point addressing a roomful of women was not prioritized kids over work. It was some kid stuff is glass and some is plastic and sometimes to catch a glass work ball, you have to drop a plastic family one and that is okay.”
I truly love this analogy. Not just because Nora Roberts is my favorite author of all time, but because everyone has things that they juggle. Whether you’re a mom or not a business owner or not, a spouse or partner or not—whether you’re all of those things at the same time or not—some of those balls that you’re juggling are glass and some of them are plastic. Sometimes, just for your own mental sanity, you have to drop the plastic balls so that you can catch the glass balls, no matter what category that they’re in.
I think a big key to this, especially for women, is to not feel guilty if you drop a plastic ball—like if there’s a little thing that you drop and to not feel bad about not getting to it, because I personally know that I feel immense guilt when I drop a ball. If I commit to something and then I forget to follow through or if I don’t feel like following through, which is especially true in 2020, or I’m running late, or I have to cancel.
I know that guilt is part of a learned behavior because my mom is the same way. She feels really guilty if she commits to something and then can’t do it, doesn’t want to do it, or whatever.You get to design your own work-life balance at any given moment. Click To Tweet
I know that part of it is also social conditioning because how many times have we heard feminism defined as women being able to “have it all” which is a phenomenon better known to women as “doing it all.”
You’re excelling at your job. You’re keeping the romance alive in your relationship. You’re making sure your kids are well-rounded with their well-rounded, well-adjusted humans, with clean clothes and an education.
You’re also—of course—keeping a perfectly clean house, and making sure all the laundry gets done, and cooking nutritious meals and whatever other shit that you’re supposed to be doing. ‘Cause that’s what society means when they say women can have it all. But having it all by society standards is fucking exhausting. We don’t need to do it all. We can’t have it all. I feel like wanting to have it all is what brings us to the myth that such a thing as work-life balance actually exists.
Because of the trap, really, of work-life balance is the word balance by definition is we think that everything has to be a 50/50 split. 50% goes to work and 50% goes to life, which is just not realistic, first of all. But sometimes work needs more of your focus. You know this is true, especially, if you’re an entrepreneur, but even if you work in corporate, sometimes work just needs more of your focus.
If you’re launching a product launch mode is intense. It requires a lot of time, focus and effort. You might be missing dinner a few times when you’re in launch mode, or you might be working on a Saturday. That season or period of your life looks very different from a normal day. If you’re a CPA, tax time looks very different from the rest of the year and your life.
Then there are times where sometimes life needs more of your focus. Maybe your kids are going through a rough time or you’re getting a divorce or you’re experiencing a loss or depression or you’re moving or whatever it is. Those are the times when work takes a back seat and takes up less of your time, so that you can focus your mental and emotional and maybe physical energy on the other things that really matter. This is glass balls versus plastic ones.
I think the good thing about the work-life balance myth—if we’re going to still embrace it and talk about it—it’s that you get to decide what the balance looks like for you. You personally get to design the balance at any given moment, and that means that it can change. Maybe a ball that’s plastic today is glass next week. Especially if you’re an entrepreneur, you have a little bit more freedom to design your schedule and your day and your life and your business, to be whatever works best for you.
I get that if you have kids or a spouse or whatever, you have another person dictating that for you. I have a lot of freedom in what my day looks like because I don’t have kids and I’m not partnered. But sometimes you might need to do work specifically, after they’re asleep, or while they’re napping, or in the middle of this pandemic hell—maybe you’re working while they’re doing their own online studies. Maybe it’s impossible for you to work while they’re doing their own online studies, but that flexibility is the whole reason that we started these businesses in the first place.
I know a woman who wakes up super early every morning. She’s on Mountain time, I think. She’s up by like 6:00 AM and she works from like 6:00 to 10:00, then she takes a break—she goes to run some errands, she gets her nails done, she runs to Starbucks or whatever, then comes home and she lays down on her couch and she takes like a 90-minute nap every single day. I’m very jealous about her napping skills. Once she’s finished with her nap, she gets up and she works for a few more hours and then she logs off for the day.Work-life balance is a living organism that changes and shifts as your priorities change and shift. Click To Tweet
That’s a schedule that she’s created because that works for her. That’s her balance. Her balance is to work a little bit in the morning, take a break, run some errands, get some lunch, take a nap and work a little bit more.
I don’t like that schedule—I like to condense my work. If I’m only going to work, six hours, I like to work six hours straight through, although I force myself to take a lunch break. But that’s her balance. That’s what works for her. My balance is to never work on Mondays.
I prefer, as I said, to work in a condensed time period, so in June, I stopped working on Mondays and it was the best decision ever. I like having a condensed four-day work week. And, since I’m a night owl, I personally tend to work better from about 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM, sometimes 7:00 PM. I tend to work later in the summer when it’s lighter for longer—my brain gets confused that the workday is not over.
I would rather do that than wake up super early, start my day early and be done by mid-afternoon, but that’s what works for me. Maybe your balance is doing some work on a Saturday because no one else is home and the house is quiet. Or maybe it’s like taking off on a random Tuesday to meet up with your girlfriends or go to a movie just because everyone was free at the same time and you wanted to.
You get to decide which balls are plastic and which balls are glass. You get to decide how to juggle them. Your balance will look different than mine or someone else’s and your job is to prioritize the glass balls and then learn to recognize burnout in yourself.
Burnout comes when we try to keep all 55 balls in the air, even if it kills us—and it likely will kill you. If you want to learn more about Recognizing Burnout, I highly recommend you check out that episode of the podcast, because I think it’s a great companion to this one.
So your homework is to figure out which balls that you’re juggling are glass, and which ones are plastic, and then to communicate that to your loved ones.
I really liked an article that I read where a woman was just starting her business. She was writing an article about how about back when she had just started her business—she is an established entrepreneur now. She was writing about it and she’s like, “I just told my family that I was doing this for the benefit of everyone. I told my husband, I told my kids, I was doing this for the benefit of everyone: While I was growing this business, there were going to be some things that I was going to miss.
“Maybe I wouldn’t be home for dinner a couple of nights a week or maybe I would have to miss a soccer game on a Saturday, but that it wouldn’t last forever. There was an end to what that would look like.”
It was getting everyone on board with, “These are the balls that are plastic, these are the balls that are glass, and this is what I’m going to prioritize so that we can get through this season of life and then we’ll reevaluate. Those things will be different.”
It was just perfect because it is setting some really clear expectations of what life is going to look like, so that nobody’s disappointed—or at least so you can manage your disappointment. Because once you know where you stand, you can practice letting some plastic balls drop.
Again, iif you’re a type-A overachiever, like I am, this is difficult for you to do. It’s difficult for me to cancel plans just because I don’t feel like doing anything. I just made plans for this weekend. The introvert side of me is always like, “Do I really want someone to come over?” But I do, so my friend is coming over!
But, you have to practice letting those balls drop and then remind yourself that you don’t have to feel guilty for that. Will your kids be irrevocably scarred if you forget about Crazy Sock Day so that you can meet your publishing deadline? Probably not, and if they are, it’s something they can talk about in therapy when they’re older.
I also want you to remember that this myth of work-life balance is a living organism that changes and shifts as your priorities change and shift and that’s okay. That’s the point—it’s normal; it’s healthy even. It’s not always all about work. It’s always all about life. It’s not always all about family and you have to stop trying to juggle all 55 balls because you are going to burn out trying to achieve that elusive 50/50 work-life balance.
That’s it for me today. Bye y’all.
- Recognizing Burnout – previous episode
Send me a message if you’d love to chat more about what partnering together would look like!