Maintaining balance in your life isn’t easy. In fact, I think it is impossible. What you are actually doing is making conscious choices about how you choose to spend the time you have, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As Jack Welch put it, “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.” In her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead Sheryl Sandberg writes, “I have never met a woman, or man, who stated emphatically, “Yes, I have it all.'” Because no matter what any of us has—and how grateful we are for what we have—no one has it all.” At this time of year, a lot of academics are wondering “How can I possibly get everything done, especially my own writing?”
Sometimes I am asked what the difference is between a life coach and a career coach. “Not much,” is the answer. Although my work focuses on finding the right career trajectory for my clients, it must work with all aspects of their lives. So many demands are placed on our time and energy, especially for the academic, that life can feel like a three-ring circus. Making choices about where you will put your time and energy is what it is all about.
Many life coaches begin their process with a “wheel” that asks clients to rate how satisfied they are with eight areas of their life: physical environment, money, health, fun and recreation, personal growth/spirituality, romance/relationship, family, and friends. This can be an eye-opening experience for some people, when they realize that just changing one aspect of the picture could make a big difference to their life satisfaction. For others, it is a recognition that they are choosing to put their time “where it matters most to them” and that is actually fine. Here’s the thing: at different points in your life, one element will be more important than another. When you have a parent in ailing health, or a child with special needs, “family” is where you will spend your time and energy. When you are working on a book project that will help you advance, “career” is where you will be putting your time and energy.
The trick is to keep yourself from getting caught in any one area, and keep your awareness open to the other areas of your life that need tending. In old age, “friends” is often the category that becomes supremely important. Paying attention to that category earlier in your life, can make it easier to get what you need and want later.
Basic life-work balance questions start by considering how well you take care of yourself, both physically and emotionally. Do you eat healthfully and exercise regularly? How are your sleep habits? Do you get check-ups and take preventative precautions? Do you set aside personal, quiet time for yourself? Do you make time to enjoy nature and art, “filling yourself up” again and again in order to renew your energy? How often are your time boundaries violated by too many commitments?
After that, move into examining the external factors, such as your work, your physical surroundings, the people you currently associate with on a regular basis. Ask yourself: am I energized or drained by these interactions? Does this space hinder or enhance my ability to “flow”? Are the day-to-day demands of my work deadening or enlivening? The answer to these questions can help you decide what choices you want to make daily that will play out in the long term.
Speaking strictly for myself, balance is actually about knowing my priorities, setting boundaries and sticking to them, as well as actually enjoying the choices I make. Being consciously aware of the impossibility of balance and making choices is a wonderful way to practice gratitude for all that you do have, and all that you can do. Maybe knowing that everyone struggles with this issue can help us have compassion for both ourselves, and each other, helping us grow in experience and wisdom.