work life balance

Stop Trying to Find Work-Life Balance

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The world tells us to pursue work-life balance—so much so that the search term brings up about 1,640,000,000 Google results. The idea is that if we try hard enough, we can keep everything in our lives in good order and perfect harmony. We meet all our work obligations and responsibilities but never miss a family dinner or one of the kids’ games. No one is ever disappointed and everything works out just fine. It’s a worthy goal, but let’s be honest—we’re not going to achieve it.

Life just isn’t like that. There are too many factors beyond our control. Yet, work goals still have to be met. Children must be fed and cared for. For many, the concept of work-life balance has become unhelpful. A general principle that’s supposed to encourage us too often leaves people feeling frustrated, guilty, inadequate, or like failures. But are we really those things? I’ll tell you.

No. Even the words of wisdom from the ancient book of Ecclesiastes remind us that we can’t always hold things in perfect tension. “To everything, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens,” it declares. “A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted… a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up… a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together… a time to get, and a time to lose.” So let me be the one to give you permission to live life off-balance.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be concerned about being the best worker, husband or wife, and parent you can, all at the same time. But sometimes, those demands don’t all line up equally the same. Here are 5 things to keep in mind as you live off-balance.

Be aware.

Be aware that different seasons demand different time commitments in different areas of your life.

So far removed from the farms that grow much of our food, many of us have lost sight of the fact that the world has different seasons. But there is a natural order and rhythm to things. Maybe your work situation is demanding more of your time and attention right now; it’s easier to handle if you have a sense that it will come to an end. But if it’s a long-term or an unending level of time, maybe you need to reevaluate it. Perhaps health struggles or issues with children require more of you at home during a season. Be aware that different seasons demand different time commitments in different areas of your life.

Be united.

It’s easier to cope with challenges when you and your family members are united. For example, if you and your wife agree that work opportunities need to take a back seat for a season to family concerns, you won’t have so much tension over one spouse feeling like he or she missed out on a career advancement opportunity.

Be prepared.

With a clear perspective on how a coming season fits into the bigger picture of your family life, you are better situated to minimize the negative potential impact on your family. For instance, if you are an accountant, you know that tax season will mean long hours at the office, so “store up” investments in your family ahead of time to see them through your absence. Afterward, be sensitive to any “dry spots” you may need to water. Consider these 6 ways your marriage can thrive in a busy season.

Be present.

So-called work-life balance can feel a bit like a juggling act, keeping all those balls in the air. But even the best jugglers can only keep everything aloft for so long. So whatever you’re doing, focus on that without juggling and without distraction. If you’re with your kids, put the phone down and stop checking your work emails. If you’re fully “there” when you can be, it will be easier for them to let you go when you need to.

Be creative.

You may not be able to eliminate the pull on one end of your rope, but there might be ways to reduce the tug. Once, when I had to travel to Washington D.C., I took one of my daughters out of school to accompany me. I tacked a day onto the end of the trip so we could explore our nation’s capital together—a shared adventure she still remembers. And I tried to be very intentional about including my kids on work trips when I could. I know of others who include their kids in work activities as well. When he was general manager for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Mark Dominik took his young son with him to training camp on Saturday mornings during the demanding period of the season. Making the most of the time became a valued tradition. So work hard to find ways to include your kids in your work, in your workouts, and other daily and weekend activities.

Sound off: In what new ways could you involve your family in your day?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What is your hardest subject in school right now?”