Work-life balance; it is something that virtually all of us are in search of but very few are able to find. In fact, according to a Stress At Work report by LinkedIn, 70% of American workers state that a lack of work-life balance is the leading cause of stress at work. Another study conducted in 2015 by the American Sociological Review showed that 70% “struggle in finding a work-life balance system that works for them.” Given this survey is four years old, it does not seem that we are gaining ground on solving this issue. And when almost-half of American workers say they are stressed in their jobs; we should begin to wonder if work-life balance is even a thing.
Does it really exist?
I would say it does not. I do not believe in work-life balance; which is why I believe it is so elusive for the majority.
What I do believe in is work-life boundaries. I have had some who have told me this is just a different choice of words and that work-life balance and work-life boundaries are the same things. I would contend however that they are quite different. I spent years focused on trying to be balanced, but was completely unbalanced in my life and I can attest to the difference that boundaries have made in my life.
Here are some of the differences between boundaries and balance.
Boundaries Are Established
One of the issues with balance is there is nothing to establish. How do you define balance? How do you consistently establish balance? It is tricky at best and as we see from the multiple studies, it is unachievable for most.
However, boundaries by their very nature are established. I have clearly defined boundaries in my life that I have instituted that protect those things that I value most. These priorities include time with my wife and kids, my health, my sleep, my work, and my hobbies.
With my values defined and documented I have been able to implement boundaries that protect them which allows me to give the best of myself to work as well as to my personal life. There is no more trying to hold everything in a delicate balance. Clearly defined, boundaries are easily recognizable, unlike balance.
They Are Quantifiable
By establishing my boundaries I am able to quantify how I am doing living within them. I can clearly analyze the time I am giving to one of my priorities or the other and if I am sliding outside one of my boundaries.
Balance, on the other hand, is not so. It is far too easy to bring work into all areas of our lives – responding to an email while at a family dinner or stepping away from the sidelines of your children’s sporting event to take a call. Striving to achieve balance leaves the door open at both work and in our personal lives for unintended distractions and throws us off all too quickly.
By living within boundaries I have clear lines of demarcation that enable me to focus on my work, my personal life, and my relationships without the burden of trying to balance them all simultaneously.
Boundaries Are Harder to Move
It does not take a whole lot to knock one off-balance.
For years my daughter was a gymnast and watching her on a balance beam was both nerve-wracking and fascinating at the same time. The slightest movement or tilt could easily push her off balance and it is the same for us professionals. It may be an urgent text, a last-minute request from a boss, a colleague who needs help as we are headed out the door. Any of these things will most likely push us off balance and have us removing ourselves from another commitment to respond and be subject to the tyranny of the urgent.
When boundaries have been established they are much harder to move. For example, this Saturday I will be flying to Melbourne, Australia to take part in a conference for the week. Being there means that I am needing to fly out on Saturday afternoon. One of the boundaries that I have established is that I do not work on weekends, so this decision was not an easy one for my wife and I. However, before I committed to this conference, we discussed it and decided to make this exception and also have replaced the lost day with a day-off during the week.
This decision took time, involved communication and was more of an effort than just saying yes. And this is one of the benefits of boundaries, it requires forethought and being proactive versus being reactive.
Our corporate world is not slowing down any time soon and our companies and our employers will go as far as we allow them to go in taking our time and being ok if we are off-balance. We must, therefore, take the step to establish work-life boundaries by defining what it is we value and putting guardrails in place to protect that – both personal and work.
It can be done, I have done it and have helped others do the same.
The real question is, what’s holding you back?
This article was originally published on The UnAmerican Dream Blog on November 14, 2019