David Whyte explains so well what I often say to friends and colleagues about work-life balance; this poet says it much better than I. He begins his The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship:
Our current understanding of work-life balance is too simplistic. People find it hard to balance work with family, family with self, because it might not be a question of balance. Some other dynamic is in play, something to do with a very human attempt at happiness that does not quantify different parts of life and then set them against one another.
The main premise of the book becomes also its final conclusion: We should stop thinking in terms of work-life balance. Work-life balance is a concept that has us simply lashing ourselves on the back and working too hard in each of the three commitments [work, relationship, self]. In the ensuing exhaustion we ultimately give up on one or more of them to gain an easier life.
The understanding of this book is that in the deeper, unspoken realms of the human psyche, work and life are not two seperate things and therefore cannot be balanced against each other except to create further trouble.
The balance must come from within, not by allocating hours. And the quality of how one lives each hour—no matter what he or she is doing—is the real balance.
On this topic of true balance, a friend sent me an e-mail last week. I appreciated it and so asked her if I could post it here.
What good is "balance" if you never really engage in anything you do? If while you're putting in hours at your desk you're thinking about leaving at five to take your kids to soccer, and while you're eating dinner you're checking out your blackberry, how is one activity any different from the other? On the other hand, if you approach everything you do with mindfulness as your goal, any one activity in which you achieve mindfulness ought to balance the other activities in which you're fully engaged. Ideally, the state of mindfulness provides an interior balance to anything you do.