One of the most annoyingly overused concepts in the world of work is the sought after, ever-elusive idea of work-life balance. This catch-all phrase has been around since the beginning of time (read: the 1980s) and is used every day by recruiters trying to attract new talent into their companies and by employees trying to rate exactly how horrible their job (and/or boss) actually is.
If we were to define work-life balance, we'd probably be inclined to say that in order to truly enjoy your life, you should only have to wear your work hat between 9 AM and 6 PM (or whatever combination of eight to 12-hour shift is true for you), forgetting all about your career outside of those hours.
While I've no issue with the idea of trying to compartmentalize work and personal life--after all, everyone deserves to have some downtime to drink beer and watch reality TV without email notifications from the office going off-I'm concerned with people setting impossible expectations.
Having an unrealistic view of what a healthy balance looks like with regards to work and life often results in demotivation, depression, and burnout-three things that are not conducive to personal fulfillment. Since most people have inaccurate ideas of balance, they incorrectly assume that since they're unhappy with work, they must be in a bad job and thus begins the never-ending cycle of finding a job, hating it, then quitting it in search of something better.
Here are five common misconceptions (a.k.a., lies) you're taught to believe about balancing your home life and career and what you can do to kick these beliefs to the curb.
Lie #1: The Less Hours You Work, The Happier You Will Be
The first thing most people think of when trying to implement order in their work and home life is to decrease the hours spent at the office or negotiate some sort of flexible work arrangement. While this approach may work in the short term, reducing your office hour time won't do much for long term work-life symmetry.
There are so many factors that affect balance outside of the number of hours worked per week. This is why there are just as many unhappy people in jobs that require 15 hours per week as there are in jobs that require 50. True balance should not only take into account how many hours you work, but also your family priorities, hobbies, health and wellness needs, stress management, work load, and career goals.
Lie #2: The Perfect 50/50 Split is Possible Between Work and Life
Sorry to burst your bubble, but perfection does not exist. If you're going to get happy hour drinks with your work wife, it means you won't be able to stay late and finish that presentation. If you've got to go to Chicago for the annual regional conference, then you may have to miss your niece's recital.
Your goal should be to take a holistic view when it comes to your commitments at work and home. There will be times when work spills into home life and vice versa. The key to any real type of equilibrium depends on your ability to accept the fact that there is an inevitable ebb and flow that'll mean sacrificing different areas of your life at various times.
Lie #3: What Works for Me Will Also Work for You
When you're on the fast track for the next big promotion at work, maybe you're less likely to mind spending 60 hours per week in the office as long as you have one hour during your lunch break to hit the gym. The opposite may be true for the father of two who's OK with working through lunch and bowing out of leading the major project his team is working on so he can leave the office early two days a week to make soccer practice with the kids, since he may not be prioritizing a promotion at the same time as you are.
The real key here is to figure out what the ideal balance set-up looks like specifically for you and your goals, and then work toward them. No one else can tell you how to manage the time in your life because no one else gets your life the way you do.
Lie #4: The Boss Has It Better Than Everyone Else
Ask any executive if balance gets easier to manage once you move up the ranks and she'll most likely pat you on the head and laugh in your face. Everyone has to manage work and life demands--no matter their level. Getting promoted to that corner office isn't going to automatically solve all of your issues with harmonizing your worlds (in fact, it may make it even more challenging).
Make it your objective to set clear boundaries for yourself. Identify what you're willing to tolerate as far as time management, work load and hours, and stick to those boundaries.
Lie #5: You're the Only One Who Feels Unbalanced
Everyone struggles with finding the right balance. It doesn't matter if your friend has a four-minute commute, works from home three days a week, or takes two-hour lunch breaks to run errands (that sounds like an amazing set-up, BTW)--there are still complicating factors.
Having a perfectly balanced work and home life is a complex process that truthfully never ends. Even when you're able to successfully get your work and life demands in sync, because life, and your priorities, are constantly changing, you'll need to re-assess and restructure often.
The moral of the story is that as life is a unique experience for every person, so is the art of balancing it. To truly become successful at finding that perfect mix, you'll have to set realistic expectations for what an actual career within a constantly changing, imperfect life looks like.
Instead of trying to completely separate your workweek from your weekend, the goal should be to integrate your two worlds with the intent to accomplish your professional goals in a way that is most comfortable for you. It's a work in progress, so be prepared to cut yourself some slack and course correct when it makes sense to.