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work life balance is a tightrope

Work-life balance; is the idea more harmful than useful?

Today I want to talk to you about the idea of work-life balance, why I think it is damaging idea and why I prefer to think of work and life in terms of choice.

Work-life balance is, to me, a toxic idea and my invitation to you today is to do away with it and replace it with the idea of choice. I’m not saying you should only do all work. I’m not saying you should only do all life because actually, it is all life.

What I’m suggesting is that the notion of a balance isn’t particularly helpful. 

When you think of something in balance, perhaps it’s a see-saw. A plank with a fulcrum and to have the plank and it’s loads balanced there has to be an equilibrium. Perfect poise.

Or a person walking across tightrope with the balance bar, like those daredevil stunts in black and white pictures from the 1920s.

But this idea that we have perfect poise and that somehow the demands of work versus the demands of our personal lives, be that family, caring responsibilities, partners, cats, dogs, pets, whatever, should somehow be this magic balance. This magic equilibrium that we can find, and I just don’t think it’s a helpful way to think about working and living.

Instead, I invite you to think about choice. 

Why is the nation of balance not helpful? Because I think it suggests that there is something you get to a point, that you will achieve a point of perfection, and it means that you are always striving towards a work life balance, but perhaps, you’re never feeling you’re getting there? 

Whereas if you explore the notion of choice we can see that it is a much more realistic way to approach the demands of life.

If we go back to our idea of a person walking a tightrope. He’s got that big balance bar.

If you imagine putting a big sack of work on one end of the balance bar it will tip and you’re going to be pushed out of balance. To make that balance you’d have to put a big sack of life on the other side and we’ve got 24 hours in the day and you can’t put a big sack of life on the other side of a big sack of work.

If we take away balance and invite in choice, then we see that if someone gives us a big sack of work, for instance, if you are in retail and you are coming up to Christmas your big sack of work, hopefully fingers crossed, is lots of Christmas orders.

You can’t do anything about the fact that you’re going to be busy at Christmas. All you can do is address the big sack of work. You have to choose to do that work.

If you don’t choose to do it you’re going to lose sales. You can make those choices. You can make the choice to say, “I am going to be working 14 hours in the business getting orders out for all of November through to December and then after the last postage day, family you have my undivided attention. And this is the choice I have to make because this is the business we have. This is the work I do.”

If you’re on the tills at Tesco and when Tesco get busier, the choice to take up more shifts, to earn a bit more money, so that you can buy even nicer things at Christmas. That’s the choice. 

However we work whether we’re employed, self-employed, freelancers or wherever we run a business, we all have our work and home and personal life. Our work should be in service to our life.

We have to be happy with the choices we make. Or at least we have to be okay with the choices we make and acknowledge the compromise inherent in choice.

We have to say, “Today I’m going to focus on work. Because this big bag of work has just turned up and I have to concentrate on that” And we have to be able to also say a big bag of life has turned up. Maybe a child is poorly and needs extra care if, maybe you win the lottery and can run off round the world for a year, choose life. 

Why I think choice is more helpful is because you’re not trying to attain some perfect place that you can’t get to. You’re being much more realistic. You’re saying this is where I have to choose to spend my time, and my energies now and this is where I choose to spend my time and energy here.

We’ve got a certain amount of resources at any given time and we have to choose how to use those resources of time, money, energy.

An example from my own life, I’m in a two-week half term with my daughter. She’s in secondary school, so quite independent. Now that’s quite good for me but when she was younger I always had the feeling that I was never doing anything well enough, that everything was falling down. That I wasn’t working well enough. I wasn’t parenting well enough.

I wasn’t working or living particularly well. I felt everything was massively compromised, and eventually, I just thought,

How I need to organise this is to choose and say I choose to bring my work hours down and structure my time differently. I know that I’ve got this time in the morning for work and then in the afternoon, it’s family time.

Having made that choice I’m more or less sticking to it and that decision becomes very freeing because I’ve made a choice and I’ve decided I’m not trying to force a balance.

And then, when my daughter goes back to school, obviously my work time goes up, parenting time comes down and it’s a different scenario.

I really honestly, do you think that if we get rid of the notion of work-life balance and start thinking in terms of choice, we become much freer in our approach to ourselves and our approach to our lives because we’re not beholden to an impossible standard.

We become much more realistic about how we move through our world of work, and our world of life. 

Remember, work is only a part of our life. Work sits in our life. Life is all of it.

That’s my invitation to you this week – replace work-life balance with choice.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments or you can catch-up with me on LinkedIn

Talk soon,


Hi, I'm Ruth...

I’m a Business Storyteller. I help coaches & creatives find & tell the stories in their business that connect them with the people that need their help.


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