Why I Threw Work/Life Balance Out the Window (and What I’m Striving For Instead)

Why I Threw Work/Life Balance Out the Window (and What I’m Striving For Instead)

In the introduction to How She Does It, I say:

But real life happened, and in response to the demands of bills and work and sanity and children, my husband and I ended up veering from the traditional path. We didn’t mean to be pioneers, but as we responded to the challenges that arose in our own lives it just kind of happened. 

We threw work/life balance out the window. We aimed to blend them instead of balancing them, and we were nothing if not surprised at how well it worked for our family. We love this holistic blend, and we’re never going back. 

Now, when people say they’re striving for work/life balance, I don’t argue with them. I understand what they’re trying to say. But images are powerful, and the image of work/life balance never worked for me. That mental picture didn’t help me live a well-calibrated life; it made me feel like I was failing.

So you can imagine how pleased I was to see that sentiment echoed by Gretchen Rubin in an interview for her brand new book Happier at Home. Gretchen isn’t striving for balance, either. Instead, she’s trying to “cram her life with the things she loves.” She explains:

For me, balance is not a helpful metaphor because it implies that I have ample time to float through the day, with everything very calm. But it’s not my reality. My reality is very busy and packed. When I think of my life crammed, I cram it with the people I want to see and the things I want to do. It also helps me recognize my priorities. I can’t cram everything in. My experience is that some things have to fall away.

My reality is likewise “busy and packed,” though I spend a lot of time at home with my family, scrupulously guard my calendar, and turn down tons of engagements. I’m not running around like a chicken with my head cut off (usually), but my life is full. And for this full life, balance is not a helpful metaphor, because things aren’t spread out evenly.

Do you think you’re doing a good job balancing the different areas of your life? Or do you employ a different metaphor, like I do?

photo credit

more posts you might enjoy

13 comments | Comment


Leave A Comment
  1. Andrea Howe says:

    Wow! What a fresh and interesting perspective that I hadn’t really thought of! I love it, and think it is a good way to look at our lives that are literally packed with things and people we love!

  2. This is a fascinating perspective and definitely some food for thought. I particularly think that “blend” is a better goal word than “balance” because frequently the priorities have to shift – a professional project that demands extra attention or a new baby at home – and your idea reflects the reality that not all aspects of life are equally-weighted at all times. Can’t wait to read your new book!

  3. Angela says:

    I second Victoria: “blend” is the word for me, because the things that I cram into my day aren’t always what I love. Sometimes they’re just necessary. Having a balance between the two – the need and the must – is what I’m working on (every day!).

  4. Tim says:

    Anne, I think that teeter-totter sign at the top of your post is really helpful for pointing out hwo work-life balance is a false model. Life isn’t made up of discrete components that I can place at various points on a beam so that it all comes out balanced on the fulcrum just so long as I have placed them properly.

    Life is messy, and all parts of it blend into all the other parts of it. It’s not a matter of balance. It’s a matter of living. I try to spend my time on the things that are worth one of the most precious resources I have, time itself. When I do that, balance never even enters the picture.


  5. After a wonderful summer break, I am back at my teaching job, homeschooling, volunteering, blogging, writing, entering competitions, driving my daughter to dance classes, and consulting. Add to this the regular housekeeping, meals, shopping, appointments, and family events. My head is already spinning. These are all things I love, but I still struggle with the juggle! Keeping track of so many details and tasks, small that they may be, is what gets to me.

  6. Emily says:

    I like your attitude and perspective. I try to embrace the chaos and take one day at a time. Sure, sometimes I feel overwhelmed, but if I cut myself some slack and remember that I’m doing the best I can, I feel a whole lot better about managing my never-ending to-do list!

  7. I like the idea of “full” for this metaphor. Full implies not having room for more, but it also implies satisfaction. When my life is full, it’s full of good things (I hope), and I don’t have time for the unimportant things. What a great paradigm shift you provided today. Thanks, Anne!

  8. Heather says:

    Great thoughts. As an OB, my life is very full and rarely ‘balanced.’ But my husband and I have found a mix that works for our family. He is a stay at home dad and we also plan our schedule very carefully. I take extra time of in slow season, because I know in the fall it will be raining babies! (Those cold winter months result in lots of babies in October!)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *