Challenging the “work-life balance” myth.

Work-life balance. Like the mythical rainbow unicorn – it sounds impressive, is highly desirable and you’re pretty sure you want it… Or you should want it anyway.

But now let me challenge you to define it.

  • Does it mean you get to come to work at 9am, leave at 5pm, and switch off? I’m pretty sure my cousin who is on his way to being an anaesthetist would challenge that definition.
  • Does it mean having a complete differentiation between what is work and what is home? I’m pretty sure your company that worked hard to implement those flexi hours and work environments you all requested for so long would argue that.
  • Does it mean staying on the fringe of all the good projects so that you are never too busy or too involved with you work? And speaking from experience – I would challenge the fun in that!!!

So perhaps we need to accept that we are in fact striving for something that doesn’t exist.

At generationYOU Brisbane this year, our keynote speaker Schalk Pienaar, Founder of Croomo, challenged the audience with the idea that instead of aiming for work-life balance, perhaps we should aim for work-life rhythm. 

Simply defined- work-life rhythm starts with the assumption that life is not plateaued, balanced and constant. There will be times when work is crazy and needs to take over a bit, and then there will be other times when work will be a secondary priority to your personal life. The key is to step back and recognise the rhythm … turning it from an ugly box step into a sexy tango. Let’s explore how.

One // Recognise your work-rhythm.

We all have a different work-life rhythm. If you are studying you only need to look at your semester or trimester dates to know when things will be calm, when assessment and exams will hit (i.e. when things are crazy), and when holidays swing around and you get a chance to relax.

If you are working, it may take you a little bit of time to work out, but you will start to understand how things work in your environment. Accountants know that the end of financial year will be chaos- to expect otherwise is a fantasy. Other businesses may wind down towards Christmas, whereas retail is amping up for their busiest time of the year.

Conversely… Know when your downtime is. At the moment we are exceptionally busy at work- and our whole team is well aware of the timeline for the months ahead. We also know that at the end of July there will be a window when it is calmer… and when it is calmer we will have fun.

It doesn’t matter what your rhythm is – the importance is that you look at what is going on in your life and your career, and understand your own flow. It doesn’t matter what your mates do or are up to- they have their own rhythm that they have to make work. You need to look at your own situation and understand it.

Two // Accept and own it.

When I was young my Dad taught me to body surf. Along with that came the inevitability of being dumped by a wave. However, my wisdomous Dad taught me that if I did ever become caught up in a wave – just relax and ride it. Trying to fight it is both stressful and futile and before you know it you are back in calmer water and enjoying all the ocean has to offer.

I feel about the same about busy times at work. If you accept them and plan for them … they are alot easier to ride through. I know and expect to work hard. It’s okay.

The same goes when I’m having some down time. Our team know full well what long hours we work when we’re busy … so when it’s less busy and I want to come in late because I went to a morning yoga class and then coffee, I don’t feel guilty nor do the judge me. They know its part of my rhythm and i’m riding the calm whilst I can.

Three // Make it work for you.

Everyone has their own life, their own story and their own rhythm.

For me, I like to work like crazy whilst it is busy and then take time out when it makes sense. Being one of the bosses, I have the luxury of not having to count how many leave days I have in a year so this works for me. I also know that when I take time out, I will very likely be doing at least a bit of work most days because as a small business, time out is difficult – and the world doesn’t stop when you are on holidays. That’s my rhythm and it works.

If you are at Uni, exams and assessment are horrible but you are granted the luxury of 3 months off over summer and some other good breaks in between. That might be your rhythm.

Whatever your rhythm is – the key is to finding a way to make it work for you. And like me, you may be surprised at how much easier it is to strive for rhythm rather than balance!