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There Is No Work-Life ‘Balance’ Instead There Are Work-Life ‘Choices’ That We Make

Posted: June 25, 2020

As a professional woman, everyone wants to talk to you about work life balance. Your company is eager to market itself as supportive of work life balance.

In the middle of a mid career (and perhaps a mid life) crisis, I asked my dad for his advice. Now this is a Very Big Deal, considering my father and I have fundamentally divergent life philosophies. So, asking him anything is akin to saying, ‘Please tell me things I am guaranteed to dislike.’

I described my concerns and the next inevitable question was, “If not this, then what?” And I said since, I had no idea I would be happy to hear his views. Maybe I could quit and take some time to think about things?

He said I shouldn’t quit my job and women need to be financially independent. Okay so far. I knew he was going to say that. Then he asked why couldn’t I just continue my job while I thought about what I wanted to do.

Am I not working hard enough?

Well I could. I have a two year old and my household is pretty typical where, as the woman, the bulk of the housekeeping and child rearing comes to me. And I also have a full time job.

Space, physical and mental, to give deep thought to big life decisions is in short supply. But still I said, “I suppose I could give up on some sleep and wait till the house is quiet.” Not too convincing but I wasn’t there to not pick a fight.

He said, “But you just said your new role is not as demanding as the last one.” I tried to explain to him about the housework and childcare etc. But clearly I wasn’t getting through to him. That came through clearly when he responded, “Well that’s the lot of a working woman.”  

I cannot begin to describe how disappointed I was. How does this progressive man not see the labour that goes behind running a functional home? In raising a healthy, happy child? And that somehow, my not being able to think of a new career, possibly train for it, all the while keeping my job, is because I’m not working hard enough. Or maybe it’s because I lack conviction. 

The man meant well. It did, however, make me think about this thing we love to talk about – Work Life Balance.

Oh the dreaded ‘Work-Life Balance’

As a professional woman, everyone wants to talk to you about work life balance. Your company is eager to market itself as supportive of work life balance.

Every woman leader in the world is asked how she achieves work life balance. I’m coming to realise that it’s polite-speak for “Who’s looking after your children while you’re off conquering the world?”

Every magazine, women’s journal wants to tell you how to achieve that mythical work life balance. You know the image of impressing old fogies in the boardroom then running to your child’s play school to bake cupcakes with them? Yup, that. 

The messaging out there is so subliminal. Look! You could have this too. All you need to do is to work harder, smarter, and better.

Men don’t seem to have a work life balance problem. There’s work and then there’s that other pesky stuff that magically gets done.

Can we call them ‘choices,’ instead?

So all I ask is that we all stop using the term ‘work life balance.’ It conjures unrealistic expectations and the worst kinds are the ones you have of yourself. I think ‘work life choices’ is a much better way of describing it.

Sadly a quick Google search tells me I wasn’t the first one to come up with the term. I am petitioning its wider usage through. It’s a more honest way of communicating.

Ask a women leader about the choices she has made to get to where she is. Actually, ask men as well. What are work life choices they are making on a daily basis. Having chosen to be here today, what have you had to give up?

Stop using the word ‘balance,’ because there is no balance. There are only choices, the conviction with which we make them and the courage we have to live with them.

Picture credits: Pexels

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