The Myth of Work Life Balance

If I had more time I’d definitely have more work life balance.  I would do all the things I want to do- not have to do. I would exercise-maybe train for a marathon- or even the famous Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert.  I would sleep deeply for at least 8 hours- well, heck, let’s make it 12 hours- half a day minimum. I may sleep standing up like a horse. I would prepare amazing healthy meals with a balance of protein, carbohydrates and a plethora of fruits and vegetables and only use herbs grown by myself that start with the letter ‘t’. I would read great books that stimulate my mind and listen solely to CBC Radio. I would host dinner parties where I would create signature drinks (mine would be called a Tina Titanium on Ice) coupled with signature flower arrangements and will offer my guests vegan and vegetarian dining options milling my own flour for homemade sourdough bread shaped like a French twist. I would engage in delightful after-dinner conversations with my spouse about the current issue of The Economist.  I would colour code all of my clothes and organize them according to season on padded hangers that match and smell like lavender.  I would purchase a label maker and…um…label things. I would make my own organic cleaning products…clean. I would dress my children so that they always looked like they stepped out of a United Colours of Benetton ad. I would engage in creative play with my children only allowing them to play with educational toys that I made with my own lathe. When my children are tired they would simply say, “we are tired Mother of all Mothers. We will put ourselves to bed after we brush, floss and cleanse our pores. We may read some educational materials prior. Nigh-night” and then they’d sing the same song the Von Trapp children sang when they, too, departed for slumber.

The myth of work life balance is that with more time comes more balance. However, most of us work for a living. We work many, many hours and with mobile technology the work often comes home with us (and to Starbucks, to the lake, to hockey practice, to the bathroom). As a speaker I’ve often given a work-life balance quiz to conference participants.

I’ve spoken at numerous conferences to hundreds of Canadians and though I do not ask what participant scores are I always ask who got a 10/10 on the quiz. In my speaking career exactly two people have received a 10/10 on the work life balance quiz and guess what? They both were RETIRED!

In the Japanese culture the word ‘kaizen’ means continuous improvement. I believe in a kaizen approach to work life balance. Through small- very small- continuous steps we all can improve our work life balance. New Year’s resolutions often do not work because it causes people to change their behaviours immediately and drastically. Go big or go home! Well, most people go home or simply give up. With a kaizen approach to work life balance it’s about simplicity, authenticity, and repetition until the positive behaviour becomes a habit. Small may mean eating supper on a smaller plate for 30 days.  Small may mean adding a tablespoon of chia to your morning oatmeal. That’s it. Aristotle said, “we are what we repeatedly do- excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”. Therefore excellence exists in simple, small, habitual, authentic steps.

So rather than making homemade educational toys for my kids perhaps I’ll spend ten minutes jumping with them on our Wal-Mart trampoline tonight. Perhaps I will engage fully and authentically with my kids for ten minutes every evening. Will they call me “Mother of all Mothers”? I doubt it. But I do believe they will think it.  And that’s excellence for me.

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Tina Varughese

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