We’ve all heard the advice about the importance of creating and maintaining work life balance. Life coaches and time management experts suggest that we shouldn’t bring work home, that we should turn the phone off at dinner and get more sleep. While well-intentioned, this effort at making us more balanced is actually creating one more thing to feel guilty about.
According to Dictionary.com, balance is defined as a state of equilibrium or equipoise; equal distribution of weight, amount, etc. Harmony is defined as agreement; accord; harmonious relations.
Work life balance is overrated. We chase after some elusive ideal that someone else has suggested we need and then we spend our time trying to maintain it. Worst of all, for many people – myself included – work life balance, as defined by the “experts” just sucks the fun out of life. There stops being room for spontaneity when you’ve allocated 23% of your schedule to exercise and accepting a last minute dinner invite would disrupt that percentage. Life is a lot less interesting when you have to spend time with your kids because you said you would versus finding a creative way to both engage your children and enjoy yourself.
Work life harmony is the antidote for folks struggling with balance. Harmony is about intentionality. Harmony is about finding your sweet spot and being okay with it. Harmony is about living out your values – not because someone says you should but because you want to and can’t imagine living any other way. It’s about exchanging the should of work life balance with the choice of work life harmony.
A couple of years ago, I decided to stop feeling guilty about how “imbalanced” my life was. I felt guilty for working too much, and I felt guilty when I wasn’t working. I felt guilty for not spending enough time with friends, but I was checking the clock when I was with them. Life felt restrictive – like an ugly sweater that’s two sizes too small gifted to you by that aunt who insists on seeing you in it. You feel like you should wear it, but it’s itchy, uncomfortable, and straight up ugly.
Once I signed my own permission slip to live a life that felt right for me, I found myself happier, more productive, and more connected to the people in my life. I wasn’t constantly in my head berating myself for the wrong thing or granting gold stars for the right thing – I was just living my life in a way that was aligned and grounded.
I adopted 3 philosophies that began to inform my attitude and actions.
1. Make values your centerpiece.
Anyone who’s ever lived in accordance with their true values can attest to how incredible it feels. You feel on purpose. Time stops. Brilliance surfaces. You thrive. Values, then, are guides for helping us make choices that will bring the highest levels of fulfillment. Values help us intelligently avoid trading what we want most for what we want now. The easiest way to uncover what your values are is to look at how you currently spend your time and money. These two assets reveal so much about what we believe and what’s important to us. If I was to ask you what your values are, you might say things like “family” or “health.” But if I scanned your calendar and bank statement and found you spending more time and money on work, friends, and hobbies, I’d call you a liar. And it’s not a bad thing. Values are personal. It’s not important what your values are as much as it’s important that you fully own what they are and change them when they’re not reflective of what you want in your life. Take this Values Assessment and complete the exercise to find out where you are and determine where you want to be. When values are the foundation of your life, it becomes much easier to make important decisions in every quadrant of your life. Because you have a set of meaningful principles that you’ve chosen, there’s nothing to feel guilty about.
2. Identify what drains you and what feeds you.
Life moves fast. Sometimes we’re so busy making each day happen that we don’t stop to check in with ourselves. We’re not aware that the project we’ve been working on since April drains every ounce of joy and motivation or that the ride home on the train has oddly become the best part of the day. Self-awareness is the friend of anyone who wishes to truly be happy. The more you’re willing to check in with yourself and be completely honest about what you experience, the easier it is to eliminate or minimize the things that drain you and enhance or expand the things that feed you. Life is too short and too long to lead a haphazard existence. Part of the process of living intentionally centers on making bold choices on your own behalf.
3. Know what your priorities are.
Living in alignment with your values is just as easy as living out of alignment with your values. In many cases, the issue is not that we aren’t clear about our values or how we feel about what’s happening in our lives. The issue is that we haven’t selected priorities. Although they change with the seasons of life, priorities give us clarity. They remind us of our values and inspire us to choose what we want because we can, not because we have to. Priorities should be contemplated regularly, revisited often, and adjusted as necessary.
With each new year, it’s easy to resolve that we’ll be happier or manage our time more wisely. I recommend a different kind of resolution – a resolution to live a values-based life, make powerful choices that support those values, and keep the most important things at the top of your mind.
The balance of your life may shift and sway; the harmony of your life is a fluid expression of who you are.
Try something different this year.