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The Myth of Work-Life Balance

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My iPhone rang. It was a reminder that I was taking the day off. Is this what it has come to? I need an electronic device to tell me to take some time off.

So much is written about work-life balance and as Rona Maynard said at a talk recently, "Maybe we need to give balance a rest." Especially when you own your own business, as it is so much harder to pull yourself away.

It's not some unreasonable boss telling you to put in the extra hours, you are the boss and when you feel passionately about what you do, it doesn't always feel like work. But I doubt our families would agree. As far as they are concerned, you are not with them, and even if you are physically present, your mind is elsewhere.

Years ago I got asked to speak at Ryerson University's International Women's Day event. My daughter's first response on hearing about the invitation was to ask why they would want to hear what I had to say. No chance of my getting an ego here.

Then later, on hearing they wanted me to talk about work-life balance, my husband just laughed and observed that it wouldn't be a long presentation, as I'd never achieved it.

When I chatted to a girlfriend, she suggested I read a few books on the topic. A bit like studying for an exam, I'd have to bone up on the subject. Somehow that didn't seem real.

So instead, I spent the weekend crafting what I wanted to say. What did I decide about work-life balance, apart from the fact that it eluded me?

Personally I think it is a bit of a myth. I'm from the first generation of women who have raised a family while working outside the home, and we were promised it all. And with no role models ahead of us, we tried to be supermom. Our daughters sure don't want to work as hard as we have.

My conclusion? You can have it all -- just not at the same time. We have cycles or seasons in our lives, and it's all about making choices, setting priorities, and realizing that nothing is forever.

I know when my children were young, I intentionally put my career on hold. I just instinctively knew I couldn't handle both, and my children were my priority. But I also don't think we should become martyrs to motherhood either and I recognize that in some professions taking a break or reducing your involvement can limit your future success.

And, yes, there have been times when my life has been totally off-kilter. It was scary and I wasn't coping on any front. I chose to leave the job, exciting as it was. It just wasn't worth the turmoil.

Successful companies recognize the pressures on their employees, and provide flex-time and make accommodations for what is happening in their lives. And when they do, they have loyal employees who will go that extra mile for them and put in the hours when necessary. And when they don't, employees leave as soon as they can.

Sometimes too, we are our own worst enemy. If you are a perfectionist, you are never going to be satisfied. Lowering your standards, getting the kids to help or hiring someone to clean the house may make for a happier household.

But it is often time for ourselves that gets lost in the shuffle and yet, it was chatting to a friend that would keep me sane. Sharing our stories, learning of our similar struggles left me feeling more normal. As a result I would always protect and guard my girlfriend time.

We have to value ourselves and in doing that, value and protect the space and time we need to be whole. Just like they'd say in that old hair product ad, "you are worth it." We are no use to anyone (family or work) if we are always drained, exhausted and even worse, lost our sense of humour.

Having a good laugh with friends can make all the difference. You feel alive again. You feel like you. Remember her? It's time to reconnect.

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