The Illusion of Work-Life Balance

What is work-life balance?

We're all familiar with the term. It's a much discussed topic usually in discussions of working too much or being stressed by work commitments. But is work-life balance really what we should be striving for? 

Today, we’ll talk about the dilemma created by the expectation of work-life balance and the difference between work-life balance and integration.

Here's a few highlights:

- Does busy equal success? 

- Work-life balance: The “Life” category 

- Is it possible to prioritize our work life and our personal life?



We hear about work-life balance all the time. And today's episode is all about why we should not be striving for the dangerous illusion of work-life balance, and what we should shift our focus to instead.

Thank you for joining us. Today's episode is all about the illusion of work-life balance. So work-life balance is a term and a concept that we've all become very familiar with. This is the topic of discussion in news media, social media. There's even continuing ed on this subject alone. And often when we hear people talking about work-life balance, what they're referring to is separating our work life and our personal life in a way that ensures that our work life is our work, is not dominating our life. So they're discussing it in a way that's really talking about creating room for other parts of our life to coexist with our work.

When I hear people talk about this, I often hear things said like, you don't want to take your work home with you. And interestingly enough, that statement is more often made figuratively, then literally. So, yes, I've heard it said don't take your work home with you as in, literally don't take your paperwork home and do your paperwork from home. But more often I hear it as don't take your work home with you emotionally. So leave work at work and separate yourself emotionally when you go home.

And I've heard this for attorneys a lot. I also heard it for first responders, a lot of police officers, for example, I've heard say that they need to be able to distance themselves from the experiences that they have in their profession and in their line of work when they go home that they should be able to not take work home with them.

And so I think that's a very important conversation note that we'll come back to in a moment, but overall, I think the conversation of work-life balance is one that needs to happen. It's a conversation we need to be having. Overall, it seems that currently our society really glorifies busy. And I feel like this is starting to shift. I feel like this is starting to change and I hope that's true.

But I think so often still that busy is a synonym for success, particularly for professionals. I know we hear all the time people say how is your work going? How is how are things going? And oh, I'm busy is the response and that's great is there a response back, but is it you know, does busy equal success even as professionals, even within our business, or our practice does equal success and even hustle these days is a buzzword and I think hustle is kind of a synonym for busy right? Staying moving, staying, keeping things going, keeping things that moving forward, you know, work, work, work, work, work to get things done. So I think overall, the conversation about the relationship between work and other aspects of our life is something that needs to be happening. It is a topic worthy of discussing, but I think that we need to be careful about how we're discussing it.

So let's talk about the idea of work-life balance. First of all, in and of itself, it is a compartmentalizing idea. It creates artificial and rigid boundaries between our work life and our home life. When I hear the term work-life balance, I get this image, this mental image of the scales of justice, with life on one side and work on the other side. And the objective is to keep those skills balanced so that neither side so that the skills don't tip either side favor.

So with this image, the two are completely separate, right? We can't have something go on both sides. It's either on the work side, or it's on the life side. But here's the problem with other important aspects of our life. We don't talk this way. So if I was to start talking about my life, spiritual balance, or my life, relationship balance, that would sound odd. I think most of us would be like, well, what is that about? What is she talking about? We don't talk about other important aspects of our life in the same way. We acknowledge that those aspects of our lives are something that is part of the whole right and so we talk about integrating them we talk about what piece of the pie those things get.

And when I say a piece of the pie, I mean, our time, our attention, our focus we have those discussions. But we don't talk about setting all these boundaries around it and keeping it contained to a certain time, or completely cutting ourselves off from it when we're doing something else. We don't discuss it in those ways.

So why do we do it with work? The other issue with the term work-life balance is that it divides it into two parts. So we have work, and we have life. And there is so much that falls in to that life category. And so in the life category, we're supposed to include relationships, spirituality, emotional well being, community, physical well being, well, all these things are in the life category, and they're just all lumped together. But then we're talking about balancing work and life. And if we're going to talk about life, then we need to talk about all the important various aspects of life not just lumping them all together. So really, we talk about work-life balance in a way that we don't talk about other areas of our life. But yet it's a topic worthy of discussion.

So if we're not talking about work-life balance, what should we be talking about? Integration. And here's how integration is different from the idea of work-life balance. When we talk about integrating our work life or our professional life with our personal life, we are accepting and acknowledging the impact that those two things have on one another. We are accepting and acknowledging that it's all interrelated, and it's all part of one hole which is us as a human.

And as therapists, I think we're uniquely situated to really understand this because in our training in grad school, in supervision, in continuing education, You know, it comes up, again and again, talking about how our personal experiences shape us and our personal experiences create the lens through which we see our clients. And we are constantly looking at issues of countertransference. And if our stuff might be getting in the way of working with our clients, if our own personal and emotional baggage might be getting in the way of doing our best work with our clients, as therapists, this is something that we are constantly discussing on a clinical and academic level, and that we are constantly assessing for in our work with our clients.

So we not as a conversation, that too well accepted within our field. How could we possibly then say that the professional experiences that we have somehow should not impact our personal lives? If it goes one way it has to go the other way, right? So if we're going to say that there may be times in our life, that it would be unethical to work with a given client, because we haven't gotten through our own stuff, which I think most therapists are able to accept that statement, with no hesitation, then we have to say that those professional experiences will impact us as a person, emotionally relationally, etc. It has to go both ways.

And not only is this an important concept to us as therapists, but it's important in the helping professions in general because by talking about work-life balance and putting emphasis and importance on work-life balance as a standard that we should be striving for, to create a healthy life, we're creating a societal expectation that we should be able to successfully compartmentalize our work and our life and so for those of having us in the helping professions who have highly emotionally involved work. And we struggle to create that separation, and we have the societal expectation that we should be able to do so it starts to breed guilt, and it can make us feel like we are failing, all because we're not able to create this distinction and this separation between our work life and our home life.

And so when we talk about work-life balance the way that we do, we're really ignoring the impact that professional experiences have on us as helping professionals think about and like I said, this goes way beyond therapists but think about first responders. Think about the paramedics that respond and see difficult stuff day in day out, but then they are faced with this societal expectation that they are able to disconnect from that on a personal level and leave work at work or the trauma therapist who's working with very difficult situations and trying to help clients work through their own trauma day in and day out.

And here's the other problem. Now we are hearing so much more about burnout. And I'll talk about that much more in detail in a later episode. And I think it's a good conversation that we definitely need to be having. But the definition of burnout is lack of engagement. So when we talk about emotionally, leaving work at work, not letting our work affect our personal lives, basically encouraging burnout. But then also on the flip side, saying that burnout is a bad thing. And that creates this no-win situation because the same emotional disconnect that is the definition of burnout is encouraged when we promote the idea of work-life balance.

So is it possible to prioritize our work life in our personal life? Is it possible to some time shift our focus or attention, or shift which one may be receiving the majority of our time at a given point in time? Of course, absolutely. And that shift should happen. We should be prioritizing one over the other at different points in our life at different points in time. But can we keep them completely separate so that one does not impact the other? No. And that's not what we should be striving for. We should be striving for integrating integration creates the ability to be able to fluidly move back and forth between the two as we need to do so. So instead of creating rigid boundaries, we can create a schedule for our work life that works and integrates with our personal life at that point in time.

So if the focus is physical well being or physical health, then schedule around that yoga class or that spin class. that you know is going to impact you physically and emotionally for the rest of the day. Or if the focus right now is on family and relationships, then you're able to schedule around and adjust so that you can pick up the kids from school every day. But it's about creating an integration between the two so that they can work together and giving enough flexibility to adjust based on the circumstances and the demands of the other.

So adjusting life based on the demands of work and adjusting work based on the demands of life. I already talked about how I think we really grasp this idea of integration instead of work-life balance, as therapists, we get it because we're always looking at how our experiences impact us as a person and our worldview. But as entrepreneurial therapists, I think we are even better situated to start making this shift from work-life balance to integration not only in our own personal lives, but when we lead our team in what we are teaching and modeling for our children, our families, and the fact that we have control over being able to create a values-based brand, a values-based business in a values-based practice that we can really put integration into play. And we can show what that looks like for our team, our family, our kids.

And so I would love to know and I would love to hear what your experiences have been with the idea of work-life balance, and also with trying to strive for work-life balance because I think many of us did that or are still doing that for quite some time. It's not a new concept. So I would love to hear your experiences positive or negative with the concept of work-life balance, and then I want you to consider what small steps you could take towards moving toward integration.

What changes can you make right now that would be a step in the right direction to the year integrating your professional life in the way that you integrate other aspects of your life, your relationships, your spirituality, physical health, emotional health, what small step can you take right now that will get you closer to that kind of integration. Thank you again for joining us today and make sure that you go ahead and subscribe so that you can also join us in the future. Bye, all.

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