forget work/life balance! how about a balanced life?

11/23/2010

by carolyn mathews

You may be a “high potential,” enthused about your career and working long hours to achieve success. Or, perhaps you are a seasoned leader, who dedicates most of your time to ensuring deadlines are met and the organization continues to move forward. As busy and dedicated professionals, who also may have a family, friends, and community outside of work, you likely strive to find work/life balance. Some organizations provide “family friendly” policies to help. You may seek out information on your own through seminars or books to find ways to balance your work life and the rest of your life. In fact, if you go to amazon.com, select the books category, and put in the key words “work life balance” you will get more than 450 results. As professionals with demanding positions, 60-hour (plus) work weeks, and even long careers, this topic is near and dear to many of you!

While I acknowledge it is a commonly referred to phrase, I am not fond of “work/life balance.” The phrase suggests the two are separate entities and ignores the fact that, for most of us, work is part of life and life is part of work. It’s a concept that baffles me, like having health insurance that does not cover eyes or teeth, each of which is usually part of the body. But I digress…

Returning to the topic of work/life balance, I searched for information and found a research article that suggests why it makes sense to lead a “balanced life.” First, though, it is important to define balance and imbalance. According to the authors, an imbalanced life occurs when one experiences satisfaction and/or fulfillment in one area of life that leads to negative feelings in other areas of life. A balanced life, however, happens when one experiences satisfaction and/or fulfillment stemming from many life domains and does not experience negative feelings about the other life areas. Like the English proverb states, you should avoid putting all your eggs in one basket. In their model, the authors do not divide domain areas into work and life, but rather into survival needs (biological, safety, economic) and growth needs (social, knowledge, aesthetics, esteem). Therefore, a balanced life (and greater well-being) occurs when we experience satisfaction from several areas within these domains, while not experiencing negative feelings about the others.

This is not to suggest all domains should receive equal billing; rather it suggests that the person find the right balance between all of these areas in order to experience well-being. By focusing on only one life domain, to the detriment of all others, you run risks. Imagine your life domains as an investment portfolio. We are advised to create financial portfolios that range from stocks to bonds, with various options in between. The basic concept is to not invest all of your wealth in one stock. This portfolio approach spreads the risk, but does not require that each area receive equal percentages of your investment. The same is true for the various domains of our lives. If someone invests all of their time and happiness in their work, while ignoring friends, family, health, etc., that person is left with few resources, and possible lack of support, if their career ends unexpectedly.

To find out more about the balance in your life, try the Happiness Pie Exercise. Michael Frisch, Ph.D., a leading researcher in the area of quality of life, uses this with his clients. Complete the exercise to see what areas of your life – positive and negative – might be brought more into alignment to bring about greater well-being and a balanced life.

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