The real issue of work-life balance is about what kind of a life you want to have. Work plays a part in life--it's not designed to be the other way around.
Decisions that you make about life determine how much work and what kind of work you do. Spending time getting clear about who you are and how you are talented is time well-spent. You may not even like the answer at first. It may conflict with expectations from you, your family, the community, and even society at large.
Real people searching for balance
A few years ago my wife and I were visited by a young married couple (I'll call them Phil and Ann) who wanted to talk about some choices they were confronting about their life together. The real issue emerged when Ann said, "I think I will need professional fulfillment over the long run. We really want to have children soon, too. How do you achieve that kind of balance?"
It was at that moment that I realized that work and life were being viewed as slices of a pie that could somehow be sliced, with every piece equally tasty and available for consumption when desired.
And the reason they came to us is...
My wife, Barbara, was also my consulting partner for a number of years. She has a dual Ph.D. in Business and Counseling. (She'll analyze your financials, tell you you're going broke, then switch chairs and ask in the best Rogerian fashion, "How do you feel about that?"). Ann knew about Barb's background and the fact that we had a daughter (a teenager at that time). So her real question was "How do you have it all?"
The answer: You don't have it "all" at the same moment in time.
(Intuition tells me that there is probably some law of physics that would bear that out. However, my party-life balance in college caused me to miss that class.)
Barb explained that we had made a choice together about raising our daughter. We had decided that it was important for her to come home to a parent each day. There was too much going on in our daughter's life to leave the development of her own decision process to chance or to others with values inconsistent with ours. Yes, it would cut our income considerably. Yes, there were things that we wouldn't do as a result. No, she (Barb) didn't feel any "less of a woman" by not having a professional identity at that time. No, she didn't feel as if she had wasted her education ("Ann, try raising a teen-aged daughter without a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology!"). And so on.
A way to re-think this
Work-life balance is really a deceiving term. It has the impact ofseparating work and life. It then visually nudges you toward making decisions that fall into those two categories instead of integrating the elements of your life into a sensible whole.
Maybe that's the place to start. For those who work best with a label, perhaps "Life Integration" would offer a better working phrase than "Work-Life Balance". I believe you can do yourself a big favor by paying attention to a job that offers a "good fit" for who you are and what you do vs. trying to "balance" something that started off out of sync.
Fast Forward: Phil and Ann
Phil and Ann now have two children, 8 and 5. Ann is a volunteer leader in an organization where she can bring the 3 year-old along and it works. She does intend to continue her "professional" life in a couple of years and is exploring ways to do that. She told me that she likes her life, is happy with the decision, and doesn't think about "balance" any more. Instead, she and Phil look at where they are, where they want to be, what they value, and then make decisions accordingly.
They took the approach that life is, indeed, a journey; it's not a "have-it-all-at-this-moment-in-time-every-time" proposition.
What are your experiences? Are you working on a balancing act or best-fit decisions?