A couple of students in one of my classes have become interested in the concept of work-life balance.
I find their interest intriguing because I think the idea that you can somehow create a zen-like proportion between the things you must do professionally and the things you want to do is a load of crap.
Work dominates our thinking about life, and the two cannot be seperated, Deuze wrote.
Instead I firmly subscribe to the concept of work-life negotiation. Work-life negotiation, as I understand it, posits that a true balance between one’s profession and one’s life outside of the workplace is impossible because one part or the other always needs more. Therefore, work-life negotiation claims that you must find ways to negotiate the needed time, regardless of which side of the scale is tilted.
My life this week thus far is a great example of work-life negotiation.
I got a call Monday afternoon from my 11-year-old daughter, saying she was feeling ill and needed to be picked up from school. I had some things that I needed to finish at the office before I could go get her. The scale tilted toward work.
About an hour later I was able to retrieve her from school, even though it was the time of day when I typically would be at work. The scale tilted toward life.
The next day, she still felt ill and needed to stay home from school. Because she was running a fever and feeling sick to her stomach, I did not want to leave her alone. I canceled my classes and stayed home with her. Life needed me more than work, although, admittedly, I graded and wrote lectures from home. The scale falls on life again.
My daughter still didn’t feel well today, but canceling my class was not an option. I left her at home and went to teach. Work wins.
But I left work as soon as class was complete to come home and be with her. Life is victorious again.
Now I’m writing this post, which I plan to use in class, from my home office. Work again.
My week thus far has gone back and forth between an emphasis on life or work, but I would laugh if you called it balanced. Instead, it has been an ongoing negotiation between two of my roles — professor and mother.
Although you may not play those specific parts, your life also has multiple roles. Some of my others include wife, daughter, student, reader, writer, and sports fan.
Each role fights for supremacy at various times throughout the day. But it’s unlikely that they’re active at once. Instead, we must determine what gets time and what must wait.
Jill Geisler from the Poynter Institute calls this concept “work-life harmony.” Harmony, according to Geisler, suggests that our work and personal lives may compete for the limited hours in our days, but they are not necessarily enemies.
“There are never enough hours in the day to be all things to all people, but your work life and your home life don’t have to feel like they’re in mortal combat with one another,” Geisler said in one of her What Great Bosses Know podcasts.
Having a job you love provides fulfillment, Geisler said. She also said personal experiences make us more valuable in our careers.
Therefore, to Geisler, work-life harmony means loving your work, but taking the time you need for yourself or your family when you need it.
Let’s Talk Nerdy!
Is work-life balance a mythical concept? Is there something else for which we should strive? What does this look like to you?