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The Work-Life Balance Mantra

Work. Life. Balance. Work. Life. Balance. We’ve all heard those words so much it’s as if they have merged together into a simple little mantra which, if repeated enough we will manifest. “Work. Life. Balance.” “Work. Life. Balance.” “Work. Life. Balance.”


Look at her! See that career woman climb that company ladder! Look how happy her marriage is! My, aren’t her children beatuiful, successful and happy! She still has time to cook gourmet recipes, clean house and have great sex! Not only that, she still plays tennis, too!

It doesn’t work like that.

Years ago, when I was still married and working as a newspaper reporter, I was drowning in an investigative project that stretched for ten brutal months. It was the most challenging and important work I’d ever done, but as that series became more consuming, I kept moving the mail and my junk to the guest bedroom where it amassed itself into a giant pile of unresolved clutter. One evening, friends gathered at our home before we all went out to dinner. Imagine my horror when my then-husband opened the door to the guest bedroom and said, “Look at this!”  before exposing my secret mess.

In the midst of some of my greatest accomplishments as a journalist, I was exposed for the one failing that trumped everything. I’d failed in my traditional role of wife. I don’t think it was his intent to land that kind of blow on me, but I felt that, if I wasn’t a good housekeeper, I was not worthy. I was humiliated and I was crushed.

Of course, if you come by my house today, you will see that my office doesn’t look much better than the guest room did on that particular occasion. I’ve grown into my identity and balanced myself out by making decisions that let me define success and failure, rather than tradition or guilt. That is how you achieve life balance. You do it consciously and on your own terms.

Know your priorities and know where they rank. Years after that experience, I’ve got my priorities down. God, family, friends, community, recreation, work, and, if there is time, housekeeping and other details. Whatever. You’ve got to drop the ball somewhere, and I choose where mine drops. That is the first step in balancing your soul.

I get so amused by the importance people give to the notion of work life balance. Like, once we get it right, we all let out a nice, long Zen Ohm and all will be well. Balance implies some sort of time/effort equity that few ever achieve in life. I certainly don’t, and I don’t even have a husband or children to worry about.

A woman once told me she needed help juggling all the balls she’s got in the air and I said, “let some of the balls drop.”

I remember former cable television senior executive Gayle Greer showing me how she learned how to balance her soul. As  a working, single parent,  she traveled about 80 percent of the time when her son was growing up. He seldom came along. One day, he asked if he could schedule time for her to meet with a couple of coaches who wanted to talk to her about college scholarship possibilities for him. “It blew me away,” she said. “College? I hadn’t even thought about it. I wasn’t living in the present. I was so intensely holding on to whatever it was, keeping all the balls up in the air. Then it dawned on me, this kid is leaving.” That changed her forever. She never missed one of her son’s football games after that.

Our lives move so quickly that it seems like we are powerless over our schedules. But, we’re not. Truly, if you schedule a day off in your calendar, it doesn’t exist. And you may think you are too important or too busy or too stretched, but you have got to make time so you don’t lose your “self. “ If you think you can’t, or you can’t do it right now, you are wrong. Because, if someone you loved were suddenly in a life or death situation, your current schedule would screech to a halt and you would know what really matters.

Balance is about identity. It’s knowing who you are and what matters most so that you honor your priorities in the way youwant and need to honor them. We sacrifice so much of ourselves to things that don’t matter.

The mantra isn’t “Work life balance.” It’s, “I know what matters and I honor that truth.”

1 Comment
  1. I attended a leadership onboarding a couple of years ago. One of the speakers said it isn’t about finding work life balance…. it’s about learning to manage the imbalance. I find that to be very true. You can not be all things to all people or you will surely lose yourself. As a working single parent, I missed some early childhood moments. As my work situation improved and I had more flexibility, I tried to never miss the big important moments. But, I also focused on the little moments. Looking back… the little moments with my daughter are just as defining in our relationship as the big moments.

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