Does “Work-Life Balance” Really Exist?

Does “Work-Life Balance” Really Exist?

The Tin Can Travelers April 17, 2019 No Comments

The message in this post is the driving force behind our decision to live an unconventional life. It is what allowed us to create our own story and finally find ‘balance.’ Have you found yours?

“Work–Life Balance”

Finding a way to balance the demands of work and life has always been a challenge. This isn’t anything new. It has been talked about for years and everyone under the sun has offered an opinion on the matter. Cool sounding phrases with creative concepts have even been developed as ‘how to’ guides for acquiring work-life balance. Yet, people are still unfulfilled and sleep-deprived, and still asking the question… “Is there more to life than just work?” This post explains why.

If you break the phrase apart, you’re left with three very simple words we all know the definitions of. The moment you put them together, however, you create an elusive, almost mythical, coined phrase with a meaning that has been interpreted and manipulated a million times. Why is the concept of work-life balance so complicated, and why is it so difficult to attain?

Some might presume “work-life balance” is a complicated phrase because everyone has a different idea about what it means and what they need to achieve it. It’s as individual as the person seeking it, if you will. And although I might agree with that to some extent, not all of our needs are as individual as you might think. In other words, our lives may be different, but we all have basic needs that have to be met in order to live healthy lives. And being healthy is essential to living a balanced life.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about basic, but universal, necessities such as sleep, healthy diets and physical activity that are the primary foundation for a healthy and balanced life. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what you do for a living, where you live or where you’re from, what religion you practice or what color your skin is, if you’re basic needs are not being met, then you’re not healthy or balanced.

Just tending to our basic needs doesn’t make for a very fulfilling life, though. It’s only when we build upon our foundation, through doing the things we enjoy and spending time with the ones we love, that we really start to live and enjoy life.

My personal take on “work-life balance” is simple… it doesn’t exist. If it did, the very things that are necessary to build a foundation for a balanced life wouldn’t have to be sacrificed in order to build upon it, and vice versa. And while some may argue that a better management of time would allow for both, I would disagree. If efficiency or time management was the answer, we would have figured it out by now and the term “work-life balance” wouldn’t have to be relabeled, redefined and redesigned all the time. You wouldn’t find a new article or book on the topic published every few months, and there wouldn’t be countless resources for “how to” achieve it all over the internet. There also wouldn’t be workshops and webinars trying to sell you the solution. Most importantly, though, you wouldn’t be tired all the time.

There are some very hard-working and loving parents out there who give their all, every day, to their careers and children but never have time for themselves. Are they failures, or could the saying “there just aren’t enough hours in a day” really be true?

Phrases Used to Represent “Work-Life Balance” 

8-8-8, Balance or Work-Life Balance, Make-It-Happen, Work-Life Harmony, Work-Life Fit, Work-Family Flow and Work-Life Integration, just to name a few.

Do any of these phrases look familiar to you? Are you seeing some of them for the first time? I suppose the answer to those questions has a lot to do with your age and what you do for a living. Before I retired, 8-8-8 and balance or work-life balance were common, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone using those phrases now-a-days, or any phrase that includes the word “balance” or any other word that refers to distribution of time. And there’s a reason for that!

It’s easier to understand what our idea of balance has morphed into if we understand the older concepts of work-life balance and why they had to be changed. Here are a couple of phrases considered out-dated.

8-8-8: This one is probably my favorite because it makes me chuckle. It represents eight hours for sleep, eight hours for work, and eight hours for personal time. This is not only so far out of touch with reality, but it’s also not practical or possible. The concept completely disregards the fact that most people are scheduled to work nine-hours a day, and that additional time is required in order to get ready for work and commute to and from. A more accurate representation of the equation would look like.. 8(sleep)-12(work)-4(personal time). But just because you’ve returned home from the job that pays your bills, doesn’t mean you’re done working. If you’re like most, there’s still dinner to cook, kids to feed and bathe, homework to help with, a dog or two to walk, dishes to wash, etc. Now that equation looks more like.. 8(sleep)-15(work)-1(personal time). Notice anything missing? Where did all the personal time go? This is what I used to call the “get up, go to work, come home, go to sleep” routine. It provides no life outside of work and household obligations and is incredibly boring and unfulfilling.

Work-Life Balance: This phrase is newer than the last, but like 8-8-8, it isn’t as popular as it once was and is rapidly being replaced with more modern terms. Although the two concepts involve different methods, they both use the manner in which we utilize our time as their basis. While 8-8-8 designates blocks of time to the three major categories of life, “work-life balance” focuses specifically on the relationship between our personal and professional lives with the goal of preventing them from interfering with each other. In other words, when you leave work at the end of the day, you don’t take it home with you (physically or mentally). With the issuance of work cell phones and email accounts, however, this proved impossible since we were still plugged-in even after returning home. It became such the norm for employers and employees to communicate outside of business hours, that it also became expected of employees even if they weren’t being paid for it.

Besides the hypocrisy of it all, the concept behind work-life balance didn’t afford any more personal time than 8-8-8 did. If anything, it provided less because work was interfering with our personal lives more and more frequently.

Make it happen: This one’s more about mentality than a concept pushed by HR departments, but it’s still relevant. Once the concept behind 8-8-8 proved impossible and work-life balance became more about work and less about balance, people started accepting the fact that the only way to fit it all into a day is to just “make-it-happen.” This mentality is the driving force behind the idea that we should be able to pursue a career, raise children and nurture relationships, maintain household chores, a physical fitness regimen and some sort of personal or “me” time while making ourselves available for after-hours business. Oh… and we should be able to do it all on six hours of sleep or less. If we can’t, we’re somehow less capable. If we choose not to, we’re somehow less driven or motivated.

This idea or mentality creates an atmosphere where everything is viewed as a chore or task and the only goal is to “get it done.” This includes how we view and interact with our loved ones. It favors quantity over quality and is very difficult to sustain since sleep deprivation is a requirement.

Why Did These Concepts Fail?

The problem with the concept behind 8-8-8 and work-life balance, and the make-it-happen mentality, is that none of them reduce the number of hours you spend at work, reduce your obligations once you get home, or miraculously create more hours in a day. None of them provide realistic approaches to acquiring a healthy or balanced lifestyle since they all require you to rob time from one area of life in order to gain it in another.

So What’s Changed?

Between people and employers realizing that there really aren’t enough hours in a day, and the advancement of technology and demands of instant gratification that make it impossible to separate our personal and professional lives, newer and catchier phrases with modern concepts were developed. Since everyone’s conceded to the fact that work does interfere with our personal lives, and apparently we should be ok with that, we now use words like harmony, integration, flow and fit. But never ‘balance’! Balance has officially been added to the list of politically incorrect words.

What are these newer, more modern phrases being pushed now? With the exception of work-life harmony, they all pretty much mean the same thing?

Work-Life Harmony: This concept pushes the idea that you should focus more on work sometimes and more on family other times. It also encourages you to love your job and work with passion! Although I can appreciate the cliché “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life”, even those who love their jobs become less passionate if they have no time for anything else or are sleep deprived. Additionally, suggesting we focus more on either work or life at times implies certain things don’t have to be done all the time.

Work-Life Fit, Work-Family Flow and Work-Life Integration: These can be lumped together since they all conclude that there is no separation between our personal and professional lives in today’s world, or at the very least, the lines separating the two are increasingly blurred. They promote the combination or blending of both worlds since constant connectivity means we no longer have to be in an office to work. Some don’t have an office at all, while others can schedule the times they make an appearance.

It’s constant connectivity that makes it possible to never again miss your child’s school play or schedule that vacation and even extend it if you’re having a blast. Some would say the direction in which we’re headed makes it possible to have the personal life we didn’t before. But does it? Integration of personal and professional lives means responding to emails or text messages during that play and working online and scheduling conference calls during that vacation. It means leaving work behind at the office is never an option, and there are no areas of our lives where we can escape it. Work is no longer just visiting our homes, it has literally moved in and is crawling into bed with us at night.

Is this integration or incorporation of our personal and professional lives really the new definition of balance or the answer to achieving it, or are we being forced to believe it is because it supports the increasing trend of businesses?

Conclusion

You can call it work-life balance, work-life flow, work-life fit, work-life integration, work-life “whatever”… it doesn’t matter! As long as work continues to take center stage, which it does because the majority of our waking hours are consumed by it and we don’t have the option to quit, we will always be looking for ways to fit-in the rest of our lives around it. There is no term, concept or cool-sounding phrase for work-life balance that will ever give you more time in any area of your life than work, and none of them will reduce your obligations or create more hours in a day. So, until we learn how to clone ourselves, everyone will just have to keep on “making it happen!”

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About The Tin Can Travelers

We are just an ordinary couple who traded in our old life for a new one. We quit our jobs, sold our house, and embarked on a journey to travel the U.S. in a tiny home. More importantly, we made the conscious decision to stop embracing things and start embracing life. We are learning to live more with less.

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