I’ve learned over the years that our efforts to achieve life balance can (ironically) be among our greatest stressors: in trying to achieve balance, we often throw ourselves more off-kilter!
As a coach who focuses on burnout prevention, resilience and journaling for wellness, I’ve spent over 20 years supporting professionals in the helping, healthcare and social service fields—and their organizations.
And in my role as a coach, trainer and workshop facilitator, the topic of life balance is a common coaching conversation and workshop topic. So too are conversations around stress management, self-care, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and other occupational hazards relevant to emotional labour and caring work.
The language of balance
I have learned that language is important when we talk about life balance. Words often have diverse meanings, and “balance” can mean different things to different people.
Instead, I like the terms “work-life blend”, “integration”, “harmony” and “fulfillment” more than “work-life balance”. In part, this is because work-life balance suggests there is some perfect mathematical life formula, that if met, would magically create balance in my life. And of course, I have not found this to be the case.
Here are some real-life examples of what people say about balance
Here are some comments from my coaching clients about life balance and their efforts to achieve it…
- Life balance is just one more thing I feel like I must strive for. Even though I know it is something I will never achieve as a leader in healthcare during a pandemic, as a mother to 3 young children, and the daughter of aging parents. Balance is an illusion. Organized chaos is the best I can hope for at this point. Registered Nurse, Team Leader
- I once had a manager who was all about promoting work-life balance. I really liked how she always went home on time at the end of the workday. She always walked her talk. I respected that. It helped me feel like it was not just OK to leave work at the end of the day, but it was encouraged. We had very low rates of employee burnout and turnover on our team, in a field that is known to have high incidence of both. Youth Care Counsellor
- I have never cared about achieving work-life balance. I care about putting my time into the things that matter to me most, and balance isn’t one of them, making a difference is my top priority. And sometimes that comes with a lot of self-sacrifice to make the difference I want to make. Environmental Activist (helping save the old-growth forest in BC, Canada)
- The idea of balance was born in different times than these. I am in sheer survival mode. Balance is a luxury of times with more choices available than working in the ER during this pandemic when I am trying to keep people alive and watching them die. Emergency Department Physician
- don’t like the term work-life balance, it suggests that work and life are separate versus one integrated whole that is my life. Work is part of my life, just like my family is part of my life, walking the dog is part of my life, seeing my friends is part of my life. I don’t really think of it as balance. I just try to keep all the balls of my life in the air and do the best I can. And I try to enjoy my life along the way with the juggling I do each day. I guess if that’s balance, I am doing OK. Life Coach
- Life balance only happens when I am on vacation. Child Welfare Social Worker
Life balance as a perspective
Most of us integrate and tend to so many different things in the pulse of our days. So perhaps life balance is as much a point of view, perspective or belief system as it is the way we do this that in the wholeness of our lives.
My own version of balance
I feel I live a balanced life that reflects my life purposes and my core values in what I do each day.
If you were standing in my living room, watching the hub of activity of two teen boys, my husband, our dog, the doorbell ringing with guests from our B&B, the Amazon delivery truck pulling into the driveway at the same time, me saying goodbye and “I love you” during a Facetime call with my mom who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and lives in a long-term care home, and me walking by everyone to get to my home office to make a Zoom meeting with a client on time, you might not immediately think you are witnessing life balance in action.
Yet to me, it’s all there—a home I love, the people I love and the work I love all blending together within the moments of my day.
You might feel tired just reading that; you might long for some balance.
What is it that we really want?
When all the happenings of our days feel too busy, too much, too tiring or just too _____ (fill in the blank). In those moments when we feel that longing, what is it that we really, really want?
For me, in those moments, I feel the desire to breathe. To simply pause, and breathe in and breathe out. Again, breathe in and breathe out. To become fully and mindfully present in the now, in this one moment. To feel the still and calm centre within.
There, that’s it, can you feel it? That moment of balance in the pause, with each breath in and out. We recalibrate, we balance within.
And that balancing within ourselves, ripples out and helps us create that sense of life balance in our circumstances, whatever they might be. Because there is an inner state of balance, harmony and well-being as well as an outer state of balance, harmony and well-being.
We need to define what life balance means on our own terms. That way, we know what we’re truly trying to achieve or experience when it comes to balance in the first place. And this is a helpful way to approach the conversation around our clients’ life balance goals when coaching too.
So my suggestion and strategy is to define life balance on your own terms and then support your clients in doing the same.
I’ll leave you with some questions to help with this
- As a coach, what are your thoughts, views and feelings about life balance?
- What is your experience with life balance?
- Do you strive for it? How does that work for you?
- Have you achieved it? If so, how?
- How do you talk about it with others (or do you talk about it)?
There is no such thing as work-life balance—it is all life. The balance has to be within you. Sadhguru
If you liked this article, you may also like:
- Unlock Successful Life Balance with Practical Boundaries by Jenn Danielson
- Life Balance INFOGRAPHIC: 11 Powerful Tips for More Balance in Life!
- Coaches: How to Create Work-Life Balance When You Love Your Job! by Ruby McGuire
- For lots of ideas; balance, stress and more see The Complete Guide to The Wheel of Life