Debunking the Work Life Balance Myth
Is Work Life Balance Possible? I don’t think so!
I was at a workshop last year called “The Courage to Lead.” The workshop was based on the teachings of Parker Palmer. I’m a huge fan of his work, and his teachings have deeply changed my perspective on how I approach my career and my life, as well as the subject of work-life balance. In his book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, Parker Palmer shows how we have been living divided lives. He writes:
Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished, or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities and become separated from our own souls. We end up leading divided lives, far removed from our birthright wholeness.
The divided life comes in many and varied forms. To cite just a few examples, it is the life we lead when:
- We refuse to invest ourselves in our work, diminishing its quality and distancing ourselves from those it is meant to serve
- We remain in settings or relationships that steadily kill off our spirit
- We hide our beliefs from those who disagree with us to avoid conflict, challenge, and change
- We conceal our true identities for fear of being criticized, shunned, or attacked
My knowledge of the divided life comes first from personal experience. A “still, small voice” speaks the truth about me, my work, or the world. I hear it and yet act as if I did not. I withhold a personal gift that might serve a good end or commit myself to a project that I do not really believe in. I keep silent on an issue I should address or actively break faith with one of my own convictions. I deny my inner darkness, giving it more power over me, or I project it onto other people, creating “enemies” where none exist.
I pay a steep price when I live a divided life, feeling fraudulent, anxious about being found out, and depressed by the fact that I am denying my own selfhood. The people around me pay a price as well, for now they walk on ground made unstable by my dividedness. How can I affirm another’s integrity when I defy my own? A fault line runs down the middle of my life, and whenever it cracks open—divorcing my words and actions from the truth I hold within—things around me get shaky and start to fall apart.
What studying Palmer’s work has taught me is that until I feel that my life and my work are fully integrated, I won’t be happy or achieve the success I claim to want. I will continue to chase dreams and ideas. I will always be on a quest for meaning outside work rather than creating a meaningful career that allows all of me to shine.
Focusing on integration has allowed me to settle in and stay focused on my current career in a way I was never able to achieve with my last business. And ultimately, it has helped me make peace with being a creative entrepreneur and the challenges that creates in the world of traditional business. I cannot be other than who I am. I cannot separate the wife, mother, artist, marketer, and coach. I cannot ignore or avoid the parts that make me uncomfortable, like taxes and planning. I have to learn how to trust myself to do them my way.
Creative entrepreneurs often avoid what doesn’t feel like fun or feels too hard. They sink back into their comfort zone when they don’t understand how to do something and refuse to try. I have a client who has been resisting setting up QuickBooks for her business for close to a year now because it feels daunting, scary, and overwhelming. Yet taking this one action will save her time, allow her to outsource her bookkeeping, and likely save her money on her taxes because she will be paying closer attention to her finances all year long. She doesn’t want to pay someone to help her; she thinks she has to figure it out on her own, which adds to her fear and frustration. The truth is that she doesn’t have to learn all about QuickBooks. She needs to find someone she trusts to help her set it up, teach her how to do a few simple things, and then manage the rest of it for her. The creative entrepreneur’s resistance to asking for help and stubbornly believing that we have to do it all by ourselves makes it impossible to grow and sets us up for living the divided life Palmer describes above.
When the creative entrepreneur finds herself feeling stuck and overwhelmed, she feels out of balance, and her priorities are often skewed away from what is most important to her. In the case of the client above, when she is feeling divided, she hides, avoids her problems, and focuses on working harder on what she can manage. She feels ashamed, yet her fear stops her from taking action.
I invite you take a moment to examine your own life. Do you feel divided? Or are you at a place in your life where you are embracing integration? Perhaps you are somewhere in between? In the next section, I’m going to share with you a quick checklist to assess how integrated your life is with your work.
Now, remember that I said that I would debunk the myth of work life balance? I don’t believe that “balance” is possible. I think it’s a myth that there is some perfect world where everything in our life gets equal amounts of attention. That’s an unrealistic perspective. I do believe in integration and in making time for what matters most.
The life of the creative entrepreneur is more like a juggling act. Because we love to do so many different things, we often juggle many different roles—and we love all of them. We find our attention being pulled in too many directions. When we do drop one of the balls, blame and self-judgment often stop us from moving forward. There is a super funny video on YouTube about juggling by comedian Michael Davis Ford. Listen to his banter as he juggles a sword, a hatchet, and an axe. Learning to add a touch of humor to our juggling and to let go of blame and shame can get us back into action.
I love the juggling of the many different areas of my life, but I notice that when I’m distracted or divided, I start to drop too many balls. Sometimes I drop all the balls and collapse in front of the television with a glass of wine and the cat on my lap. Usually some downtime and a good night’s sleep are enough to get me back on track.
Mindfulness Tip: When you start to notice that you are dropping too many balls, take a five- or ten-minute time-out. Sit quietly and take several deep breaths. Allow yourself to be present in the moment. Take out your journal and write down three to five things that you feel grateful for right now. After you write them down, read them aloud or silently to yourself and say thank you. Then, ask yourself, “What is one step I can take right now to get back on track?” Write it down and then go do it. Trust your intuition, even if you hear something like “Take a walk,” “Doodle,” or “Dig in the garden.”
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