Coping with the ‘myth’ of work-life balance

We yearn to have it all – whatever that may mean to each of us

From many overworked clients, I hear it consistently. “I want more time,” “I need more time” – to “do the things I want to and to be successful at my work.” The logic follows that, to do it “correctly,” there must be some sort of balance between work and life.

Ask someone to define what they mean by “balance,” and they speak with hungry eyes that longing for more time with family, self and children. Or resigned eyes that dull over, accompanied by a sweep out of the office, cellphone and keys in hand, hurriedly making childcare pickups or evening networking events. And then there follows questions on how to “get more work-life balance” – tactics, strategies and a clear pathway.

I have done and felt all of these things. We yearn to have it all – whatever that may mean to each of us. To me, that means I am successful in work, relationships, health and so on. I thought that by balancing I could do a little of everything – a little here, a little there – and keep things on an even keel. Everyone would get a little part of me, myself included.

But I found myself getting overwhelmed and exhausted, all the little parts of me scattered everywhere. I was, quite literally, consumed by my day. It controlled me. I didn’t control it.

Sound familiar?

Well, it is not about balancing anything.

It’s about choosing. You get to choose: one thing at a time, one moment over another, and being OK with a choice at any given time.

Making choices

Being OK with ourselves in our choices is what we’re after. So how to do that?

Begin with asking ourselves: what are we making these choices for? For the sake of what? This is where we look in depth, for our “why,” our North Star, our vision. It includes everything: work, health, family, philanthropy, and travel, for example. It’s the vision we develop, so we can align our choices. Make it matter to you.

For me, rather than putting out fires all day, I went to uncovering what I really wanted – from a 30,000-foot view. What did I see for the next year? What did I want and how did all those pieces fit in?

Once I understand what I really want, what are the conversations I need to have with myself and my loved ones to make my choices at this time OK?

Notice I emphasize “at this time.” As you well know, things are constantly changing, so will our choices. Also notice that there are conversations. We take responsibility for the choices we make. We address our impact and validate our loved ones’ needs and interests.

What’s interesting is that when we make choices, we can also make different ones. We are not victims of circumstances or job descriptions. We can find creative ways and have healthy conversations to address that vision of ours.

Easy? No. But it doesn’t have to be excruciating. It takes work, and revisiting it, again and again. Somewhere in there, what we really want isn’t time, but a realization of our deepest longings and purpose.

Trinnie Houghton is a partner and executive and organizational coach with Sojourn Partners, Bedford. She can be reached at

Categories: Business Advice