9 Lives for Women Blog

Seesaws are Always Uneven | May 17th, 2012

There’s no such thing as work-life balance.  The time you spend at home will never equal the time you spend at work.  You’ll never feel the same level of contentment, passion and fulfillment for both your work and home life.  The seesaw is always uneven—and you have to accept the fact that you’ll never find perfect balance.

It’s trite but true:  the grass always seems greener on the other side.  I talk to women who think if they could just get off the treadmill of work everything at home would fall into place.  The women at home, tired of volunteering and looking for more intellectual stimulation and money of their own, say they’ve got to find a way back to work.  In both extremes many women are unhappy, and that discontent can be a gray cloud over a family’s life.

If not the all work or all home option, how about a combination of both? No working 80 hours a week and traveling around the world.  No carpooling and volunteering into oblivion.  Some happy medium.  Somewhere.  Somehow.

But even a happy medium suggests something close to balance.  In the May 7th Wall Street Journal “Women in the Economy” report, Campbell Soup’s CEO Denise Morrison said “When you think about work/life balance, it sets up a false expectation of perfect equilibrium.”

That’s the crux of the matter—there may be times (days, hours?) when your life seems in perfect balance, but sustained balance is a false expectation.  Whether you’re in or out of the work force, some part of your life—at certain times–will drain most of your energy.

Rather than achieving work-life balance every day or even every week, I think it’s much more realistic to make sure that work (or whatever you choose to do for yourself) and home are at the highest end of the seesaw with reasonable regularity.

This does not mean that there should ever be a time that you neglect your children, your spouse or your home.  But neglect is an extreme word:  there may be certain times you go through the regular routines with your children, but not do all the extras like bedtime stories and movies.  In the same “Women in the Economy” report, Carol Bartz, former CEO of Yahoo and Autodesk, made this point very well:  “There are times when you have a huge project…and you are focused.  You say to your family ‘I’m not going to see you much this week or this month.’  And then when you go home, put the iPad down, the BlackBerry down, and be there.  Don’t be half anywhere…Wherever you are, be there.”

If you’re on the verge of leaving the workforce—and you feel that your family is truly never on the high end of the seesaw, it may indeed be time for a less demanding job or a hiatus to regroup.  But leaving in search of total life balance is an unrealistic pursuit.

Manage your family’s expectations about how much they will see you during busy work periods.

  • Think hard about whether the grass is truly greener on the other side of work.
  • Consider ways to make work or home the high end of the seesaw during different periods.
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