Don’t talk to me about work-life balance. I am tired of the phrase. It is an outdated concept that is subjective in nature. There are philosophical polar opposites on this topic: those who think they are good at it and those who think they suck at it. I have yet to find someone in the middle. The problem is that work-life balance is based on perception.
I may believe that my work-life balance is in a good place, yet my supervisor or colleagues may disagree. Just because I work beyond 40 hours a week every week does not mean that my life is askew. What if my personal identity is closely tide to my work identity and that is how I like it?
My profession provides me with purpose. I still have a life outside of work. I have an identity separate from my office environment. I know when these components are out of whack. I will let you know when I need time away. That is why I am provided sick and vacation time. I will use them as needed. Forcing me to take them assumes you know me better than I know myself. I’m sorry but that is just not the case.
However, here’s the catch…
I know that I view people who work less than 40 hours a week or with a 9-5 type job in a different light. I assume that their work-life balance is tilted too far to the life side. Is this true? Not necessarily. In some instances it may be. But at the end of the day, it is my perception, experiences, beliefs, and values that shape my view. My perspective can be heightened when a colleague has a similar role/position, yet leaves early frequently and is out of the office often. Does that mean the person is not capable of doing the work or is a terrible professional? Of course not. It means their style is different than mine. They prefer to skew their work-life balance differently than I do.
As a profession, we claim to respect individual differences of our students, yet I feel we struggle to do this with ourselves. We project our perspectives onto others, especially when we talk about work-life balance. We are rockstars at it so we assume our way is the right way or we suck something fierce when it comes to work-life balance so we don’t even approach the topic with our colleagues out of shame and embarrassment.
My recommendation is that we have open and honest conversations about work-life balance with each other, as colleagues, as supervisors and supervisees, and as advisors to our students. Talk about what work-life balance means to you, not what you think you want others to hear. If you are comfortable with your definition and able to have this discussion, things will be better in the long run.
My further recommendation is we stop saying work-life balance altogether. The word balance assumes some type of equality. That these two worlds need to be in perfect alignment with one another. That equal time needs to be dedicated to the two. The issue is that this is not the case. Maybe my scale is weighted differently than yours. That is my prerogative and choice.
I suggest we say “harmony” instead. Maybe it is the influence of living around hippies for the past two years, but I still feel it is a fitting term. Look at the definition, “a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts.” Harmony does not assume the aspects need to be equal. It suggests that the pieces need to be organized in a way that they compliment each other and the interaction between these parts happens regularly.
I like the way that sounds and so that is what I will stick to. Won’t you join me?