Is work-life balance actually a thing to strive for?
A look into why very few of us succeed in finding "balance."
Special welcome to the 36 conscious thinkers who joined The Edvolution this week.💜 I hope this newsletter serves as inspiration, or maybe a much needed reminder, to continue creating a meaningful life on your own terms and questioning the status quo. If you arrived here through a FWD’d email, officially join us by subscribing below.
Last week I talked about this one piece of advice that changed my life: Unlearning is just as important (if not MORE important) as learning. 🙌
Here’s how last week’s musings stirred some fun reflections amongst our community:
“I LOVED the part on changing your social media narrative. Thank you for being real and not trying to agree with the (easy) counter-narrative that social is bad. I learn SO much on social and wouldn't want to remove that source of wisdom.. thank you again! you rock!”
“AGH, I’ve been struggling with weekday morning anxiety for YEARS and never even thought to ‘take back my morning…’ crazy how we just let ourselves accept these narratives! Thanks for waking me up”
"Plenty of what you shared I've been wrestling with as well this year. I've been trying to build my own venture within adult learning for a little while now. Wanted to say thank you for taking the time to curate this all and share your message."
A special thank you to everyone that wrote to me—these notes make my day!
It’s a new week, so let’s dive into today’s question.
👉🏼 Is work-life balance actually a thing to strive for?
This narrative has ALWAYS intrigued me. And it’s been in my life for, forever!
Ever since I was little, my therapist mom would warn, “Make sure you build balance between your work and your life.”
And I always remember thinking, “Uh, work is not part of life? They’re separate? I live two lives?!”
By readily believing that we need work-life balance, we’ve defaulted to separating the two without even thinking about it! And as a result, we’ve accepted this societal narrative that work and life are in a constant conflict.
It’s become an either/or dilemma. They’re both seen separately so we’re supposed to find a “healthy” way to manage both because supposedly they’re in opposition...right?
I just don’t buy it.
So a few years ago, I began my unlearning process (hehe, told you it’ll come back…) by questioning where this narrative comes from. Why is working five days a week and then resting for two days the norm? And why does each day have its own prescribed sentiment? Mondays are “the worst,” Wednesdays are “hump day,” Fridays are “Thank God it’s almost the weekend.”
And why do we all buy into it?
As I began questioning, I started thinking about the concept of time. Whether we’re working or playing, time simply exists.
So, I asked myself, Shireen, how do you really want to feel when you spend your time, regardless of whether it’s a Sunday or a Tuesday?
At its core, I just wanted to live a life that felt joyful, fulfilling, and rewarding. But when I automatically accepted that my work and the rest of my life needed to be separate in order to achieve these feelings, I found myself experiencing anxiety and guilt instead.
I decided to no longer see my work in opposition to my life’s priorities. I embraced all aspects of my life being in harmony with each other.
For example, even though I have an incredibly fulfilling job, sometimes I just don’t want to do the things that my job wants me to do in the moment. If I was following the traditional “work-life balance” narrative, I’d be trained to “stick with it” until 5PM when I can “turn off” and not think about work.
I can tell you first-hand that just made me miserable. Just look at the words we use to talk about our jobs! And because “sticking with it” took soooo much effort, I’d be exhausted by the end of the day and would actually just turn off and spend hours on Netflix. I’d never actually get the time to do what I wanted to do.
No wonder so many of us strive for work-life balance but somehow never seem to get there.
But with my work-life integration mindset, instead of waiting until 5PM to do what I want to do, I’ve embraced a blended working style. I’ve set appropriate expectations with myself and with any commitment I make in my life (whether it’s to my coworkers or my husband). People know I’ll get my work done; they know my priorities. But they also know that I’m not following some “normal” time-table where I work even when I don’t have the energy to. Or rest when someone tells me it’s okay to...
I recently came across Amanda Goetzs interview where she shared a similar approach:
“Even before the pandemic, I didn’t believe in a separation between ‘work life’ and ‘personal life’ – I mean, they’re both your life, and they happen together! Now I’m at the point where I’ve put in the work to be able to say that I don’t feel guilty for being a mom, and I don’t apologize for demanding to be with my kids when I need to.”
If you read the full interview, you’ll learn about her typical day and Amanda’s rituals that allow her to optimize her time in her own way.
It is interesting to note however, that she says “I’m at the point where I’ve put in the work to be able to [do this].” That makes me question, is being able to integrate your work with the rest of your priorities a privilege? I’ve thought about this a lot, and while I can go on a tangent here, I’ll reserve this for a dialogue between all of us. Feel free to leave your thoughts!
We all come from different circumstances and walks of life. Your journey toward creating a blended work-life existence might look different than mine. But what's most important for you is to question the default narrative and see if you truly align with it.
🤔 CHALLENGE YOURSELF
Let’s put this week’s learning into practice. It’s time to get real about how you engage with the traditional work-life balance narrative and how it impacts your life. Take some time to flip open a journal and free-write this week.
Explore your acceptance of the “work-life balance” requirement.
Have you ever felt the pressure to find that balance? Did you default to seeking that balance, or did you stop to question if it was even something that made sense for you?
Pssst: If you’re feeling brave, let us know in the comments section (or reply just to me!) how the challenge goes—I’m here to cheer you on. 🎉
“I’ve been diagnosed with Crohn's disease, which is a stress-related disease [that I developed as a result of the stress from my job]. It’s something I’ll have for the rest of my life because of the type of environment that I tend to take on—that was a massive reality check that work-life balance wasn’t really working for me.”
-Alexandria Smith, currently leading Global Sales Development at Headspace and a world traveler
🎁 PARTING GIFTS
A round-up of hand-picked, highly recommended tools, and inspiration to help you live your best life.
A beautiful piece by Richard of The Startup where he discusses the concept of Lifestyle Design and asks questions like: “Do you need to work so intensely to meet your needs? Or are you working for work’s sake?”
A podcast episode with Adam Grant called, “When Work Takes Over Your Life.“ A quick-moving, entertaining exploration of how people like Ariana Huffington create boundaries in their work.
A Twitter truth bomb worth chewing on from a New York Times’ editor.
This podcast episode from #HelloMondays. A conversation with Stanford professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans reminds us that we’re all in charge of designing our own work lives and it starts with taking a good hard look at where you’re at.
👋🏼 See you back here next week to explore:
What’s actually required to build a meaningful career? (Hint: Not a college degree)
The Human Behind this Newsletter
❓ Got a question you want to unpack together? Tweet me, @shireenjaffer_.
🎤 Want to share your story? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org—I’d love to feature you in an upcoming newsletter.
💜 This newsletter was crafted for you while soaking up the warm Florida breeze on my balcony. Share with a friend who inspires you daily—and let them know it.