The Man’s Lie of Work Life Balance and What to Do Instead

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This idea of work life balance appears to have been first invented in the mid-1800s1. And has been propagated by TV, the media and pop psychology since at least the 80’s in the U.S.
A search of Google yields about 103,000,000 results. The results, are a mix of self help articles and articles from healthcare organizations. Clearly, a lot of work going on in trying to provide answers. But, is work/life balance working or, even possible?

If I understand work/life balance correctly, we need an equal amount of time for work and being a dad/husband. If we work a standard job of 40 hours a week, is there mathematically that same amount of time left to spend with family, personal pursuits and everything else? In most situations of a 40 hour per week job, we will assume the commuting is two hours per day. That works out to a total of 50 hours away from home per week. Over the course of a weekend there are 16 – 20 awake hours. And what’s worse, we seem to stress ourselves out over doing one thing when we want to be somewhere else doing something else. As men we are most often stretched to the limits of helping be an economic provider and “being available” emotionally. And that stretching causes us stress and regret. Two poisonous ideas to our psyche. The idea of work/life balance by all accounts is a lie. Balance is not even mathematically possible!

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And the trouble we get into trying to achieve work/life balance? Multiple blogs, forums and the like contain the tale of balance gone wrong. Split marriages, addiction and the like are strewn all over the internet. Heck, I even see the trouble with balance in my own life. There was time spent on work projects when, I should have been working on home projects or, just sitting at the table with my family eating dinner or, playing a game. There were rejected accommodations to attend my daughter’s school events. And at one particular point, I worked through the accepted lunch hour. When I asked to leave “early” since I had “skipped” lunch it was met with a flat “no”. I remember quite clearly my rebuttal, “that really wasn’t the answer I was hoping to hear. But, it won’t happen again.” And from that day forward, I scheduled and took the expected lunch break, every. single. day.

These and other workplace occurrences are the instances that drive us nuts and (possibly) to hate the job but, not necessarily the work. Ultimately, it caused me to think a lot about work and test out some other approaches. I would propose that instead of seeking balance, we seek to BEND the circumstances. Bending requires a bit of intermittent force but, is not permanent. Instead of failing at balancing things daily we bend them as needed. For example, instead of seeking a permanent work schedule adjustment, work to bend the circumstances when needed. This might be for a doctor appointment, kid’s school program or, other occasion. When we bend things, instead of balancing it’s temporary and returns to the way it was after. This reduces the stress of attempting to find balance and replaces it with doing things we want to do.

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  1. Burke, Peter. “The Invention of Leisure in Early Modern Europe”. Past & Present 146 (1995): 136–150. Web

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