Why work-life balance doesn't work for women, and what might instead

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On the topic of balance, here’s an interesting snapshot of my life. I am currently engaged with two work assignments that unexpectedly came my way within the same fortnight (and I felt like saying yes to both projects, so I did), there are a few volunteer causes that I am committed to and devote time, and then there’s a new business I began that I am invested in for the long-term. Most weeks, I visit and work out of three offices, meet and get to know at least two new people in the course of work, and have a minimum of one catch-up outside of work with someone I want to stay in touch with, if not more. What I do over weekends is of course outside of this.

Then there are the odd jobs around the house that can’t be avoided. Right now I am trying to wiggle in some time to paint, because I know I can, and it will happen soon. Not to mention the pesky part of having to exercise and eat right. Which reminds me, I manage to catch MasterChef Australia on most days, even if it’s a recording! Yes, I am one of those who love it for years now, gimmicks and all (don’t agree with Brian’s ouster this week, what a terrible pressure test, loved the edible art installations though).

For all those sailing in the same boat, you know there’s much more than the roles we play; there’s the in-between stuff that is hard to pin down, but takes up time anyway. 

In all of this, I am a daughter and a daughter-in-law, wife, mentor, friend, colleague, writer and an excitable and enthusiastic hostess who loves to have people over and cook for them. I am sure you have your roles to play, too.

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In the midst of this action, most of which is willingly attracted by me, the phrase work-life balance doesn’t add up. I don’t know what exactly it’s supposed to mean, especially for women.

What does the right balance look like? Is there an example I can follow? I’ve not done so well in the past trying to balance life. So I refuse to feel guilty about something that I don’t even get the logic of. What I do recognise is the importance of a sense of wellbeing, gratitude, love, happiness, busy-ness and a thriving network that makes me feel energised at the end of the day, tired at times, but energised and upbeat in my head. Which is why I don’t often feel or use words like ‘insane’, ‘crazy’ and ‘stressed-out’. I do feel the presence of balance without my time being divided in to pre-determined portions amongst all the parts I love to call life, if that’s what it might mean.

The word balance does skew the conversation for us though. Irrespective of what it might really mean, balance bubbles up a picture of us smoothly and gracefully moving from one part of life to another, one role to another with compartments that can be made exclusive from each other. To have enviable time management at all times, and have hard stops and clear boundaries in all roles. That’s a superhuman quality that I most certainly don’t possess.

So, I’ve chosen to redefine work-life balance for myself by taking the word balance out of it and replacing it with ‘connectedness’.

Work-life connectedness works much better for me. It conjures a picture that helps see my time and life as a series of interlinked opportunities I can be in and out of, opportunities to serve, help, mentor, love, care, be passionate, enjoy the rewards of my labour and live life the best I know how. In the realm of connectedness my roles overlap, I choose better and have clarity on what is meant for me and what isn't, I shift with moving priorities, yet give my attention to who’s in front of me and what I can do with that opportunity to connect. In the world of connectedness my boundaries are permeable, I give myself the permission to bend my own rules if the situation or the person calls for it. We are here to serve, not set down hard lines that make it tough to do so.

While I am fully present where ever I am in that moment, it doesn’t mean I won’t slip into another role within the next 10 mins if that’s what becomes important to do. I find connectedness a goal that is more human and achievable, more integrated with this pulsating, exciting world we live in. Connectedness feels more mindful and a more resilient way of life while doing most of what I love to do. Balance must feel like that, but I wouldn’t know.

If you were looking for another word for making work-life balance really work for you, then some tips I am sharing here might help. Do let me know what you think. Work-life connectedness can be achieved through a few actions taken consistently, done with love and attention and with the intent of being better than whom we were yesterday or even today morning.

1. Practice gratitude ~ Every morning, let the first act be one of gratefulness. Even before you open your eyes and get out of bed. Think of three things that immediately come to your mind that you may feel blessed about. It readies you for connectedness as others experience the energy around you is one of inclusivity and kindness. Carry on a sense of gratitude as you move about the house and get breakfast or take care of those at home. Think ‘thank you’ at every step, quite literally. Step into opportunities to feel how good life is right now, without thinking of what you don’t have or can’t get or have lost already. There is enough and more to say thank you for, so make your morning about being grateful.

2. Give first ~ I intend to write a longer article on this, and here’s a summary. When we meet someone at home, at work and in our community – let’s look for what we can give, before we ask for what we need. Giving is powerful. Giving gets us way more than asking alone might. Giving is not a sacrifice because we give of ourselves mindfully. Giving and serving last longer and create a stronger sense of community and connection than when we receive. Think of the last time you chased down something you really wanted, and then how quickly the excitement passed. Giving is a different energy, it vibrates at a level that provides sustainable happiness, a sense of wellbeing and joy that is hard to maintain otherwise. Joy feeds into the feeling that we are leading our lives in a way that is healthy for us and for those around us.

3. See opportunities, not work ~ Work has always been a series of opportunities for me. Irrespective of what our role description says, at the end of the day, it’s what we make of our role that matters the most, even to the boss. It feels more efficient and effective to see chunks of work as opportunities to do what we love to do, or what we have to do on some days, to get to what we love. Opportunities make it easier to get through a day that could easily have become tedious, slowing us down and taking more time than it deserved. Opportunities also feel finite and exciting, so one day doesn’t mindlessly roll over into another. Each day is a set of new opportunities. I don’t mind if this is just a mental game, it’s a game that works!

4. Be a connector ~ I have some amazing connectors in my life to learn from. Every day, I think about what and how I can help create connections that are gratifying for me, and those around me. This can involve a simple act of returning an email on time or asking how someone’s day was, and then listening. Maybe, offering to have a cup of tea or coffee with a person who can do with a conversation or if I could do with a conversation, either way, it helps to connect. I find joy in providing people information that can help them find something or point them in a direction that provides hope and energy. I need that too, and I always appreciate it if someone connects me to clarity and hope on days I need it the most.

5. Be where it is most important to be ~ This is a tough one for most of us. We can’t be everywhere, which is where work-life balance takes a bad turn; being absent causes feelings of guilt, of being inadequate or selfish and careless. Strong and negative emotions sweep us further away from any sense of connection and wellbeing. Which means, saying no, and gently letting people know why that great idea isn’t my priority right now and they might be able to find someone much better than me. This frees up time that would have otherwise got locked in a false sense of obligation and fear that I might lose that relationship if I said no. I still end up saying yes more often than you might imagine with this strategy.

Some days, I need to connect with myself, and that becomes my top priority. I know connectedness begins within and with oneself, and so must balance, I believe.

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