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Don’t Make Work-Life Balance Your Goal

Unknown Monday, July 22, 2013 ,
Work-life balance.  

I hate that phrase and all that it implies.  

When you're trying to balance something against another, what you're doing is trying to fight off gravity's pull on those two things.  Is that really how we want to view things?  Is there anything that, when put on the other side of the scale can act as a counter-weight to your family?

More than the semantics of it all, I hate how we’ve been fooled into allowing the ‘work-life balance’ myth to gain credibility; how there are those who push it as though it were the goal which all parents should strive to achieve.  For me, there is no such thing as work-life balance; there is work and there is life.  Thinking that you can ever get to a point where the former does not impinge on the latter is an illusion.

How can it be otherwise?  When you work, it often feels as if you only get to see the worst of your children.  You get to see them late in the evening they're too tired to do much apart from whine.  When they're full of life and energy; when they can do the fun stuff you're usually at work.

There are the weekends, of course.  But far too often those end up being days where you rush from one place to another, doing the errands that you didn't get the time to do during the week.

The opposite applies just as much: kids often get to see the worst of us.  I'm the first to admit that I'm not usually the most fun person to be around when I get home from work.  And that often the last thing you want is to have to deal with three kids.

Occasionally I get to think about how my kids will remember me when they're older.  Will they think back fondly about the time they spent with their father or will they simply recall a grumpy man who often had too little energy to play with them?  Often I fear that it will be the latter.

It’s not that I don’t make an effort. I try to leave for home at a sensible time and I make an effort not to let work encroach on my evenings.  Even so, it is extremely difficult to switch off; it is difficult not to think of some upcoming project that there is lined up or wonder how you'll manage to handle whatever it is that you have to do.  And, unfortunately, when your mind is filled with such worries those around you tend to suffer.  Physically you might be at home but in truth your mind isn't.

Of course, some manage this better than others and there are those who can truly switch off when they leave the office or wherever they work.  But if we're being honest, most of us don't do that anywhere near well enough.  If you want proof, just keep an eye out for how many people can’t resist taking a peek at their smartphones to see whether they’ve got any new work mail whilst they’re out with their family.  Or how many people go out to take a work call when they’re at a school concert.  

Does this mean that work is bad?  Of course not (at least not unless you’re in a job that you really hate, in which case it most probably is harming you). Work is a necessity but not only that: it does give you a degree of satisfaction.  Yet, even if you simply go by how much time we spend at work, it is naïve to think that it isn’t dominating your life.

Fair enough, there are those who are ambitious and who want to be in ever more pressurised jobs in order to feel fulfilled and as a result spend as much time as they possibly can working. But those are few. Then there are those who need to work as many hours as possible in order to earn enough money to get by.  But again – and I’m talking about Malta here – in truth there are few of those too.

The majority find themselves in the middle, stuck between the dual pressures of work and their family.  They can feel that they aren’t truly happy with the time that they are dedicating to their kids but at the same time they feel powerless to do anything about it.  People bandying about phrases like ‘work-life balance’ perpetuates the illusion that some minor changes here and there will allow you to make everything right.

Yet that won’t happen.  What needs to be done – and this is as much advice for myself as it is for anyone else – is to take a real look at yourself and determine what your real priorities are.  Stop kidding yourself that a holiday or being able to work flexible hours (although both are good) will fix things.  Fight so that you can live a life that truly makes you happy and fulfilled.  

Make sure that when they grow up your kids will think of you as a kind, loving and fun person who always had time for them.

This article originally appeared on the Summer 2013 issue of the magazine Growing Up in Malta.

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Copyright 2010 Paul Grech: Writer