Balance & Beyond Podcast
#17: Busting the Top 3 Myths About Work-Life Balance
The Truth Behind All the Myths
What is the true essence of work-life balance, and can it be defined in a formula? That's what we’ll challenge in today's riveting discussion. We kick things off by debunking the myths surrounding this often misunderstood term and shed light on how balance is subjective, with no one-size-fits-all formula. It transcends the usual time management dilemmas, spilling over to a deeper emotional equilibrium and energy management level. I'll share my personal endeavours of crafting a life of fulfilment that caters to my needs while fuelling my passions.
We then venture into the evolution of balance, looking at how it moulds our progression. We expose the intricate ties between work and identity and emphasise the significance of finding a personal balance that resonates with you. To help illustrate this, we’ve outlined three cornerstone components for achieving balance - a stimulating career, attentive relationships, and vibrant health. Navigating life's constant changes while maintaining balance can be daunting, but fear not - together, we'll delve into strategies to help you avert burnout. This conversation encourages you to define balance on your terms to shape a life that caters to your necessities and ignites your aspirations and passions.
In this episode, you’ll discover:
- Why work-life balance has become one of the most hotly debated and over-used terms
- Where your beliefs about balance likely come from, and why it’s so addictive to chase success
- Why the old paradigm of bigger jobs must equal more hours is holding you back in so many ways
- How to untangle your identity from your work so you can actually enjoy the journey
- My definition of balance and what’s possible when you can achieve it
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INTRO: Welcome to Balance and Beyond, the podcast for ambitious women who refuse to accept burnout as the price of success. Here, we’re committed to empowering you with the tools and strategies you need to achieve true balance, where your career, relationships and health all thrive, and where you have the power to define success on your own terms. I honour the space you’ve created for yourself today, so take a breath, and let's dive right in…
Before we dive into today's episode, I wanted to make sure you knew about a free three part training series I'm holding this month. "The Ambitious Women's Success Blueprint" is going to share with you the counterintuitive way. A new generation of leaders are unlocking more confidence, calm and career success. Starting Thursday the 14th of September, you're going to learn what sets apart successful climbers from those who burnout, you're going to discover unconventional shifts that bring lasting calm and confidence. And finally unlock the blueprint for more money, impact and influence at work. Who doesn't want that? To find out more and to save your spot visit balanceinstitute.com/blueprint on with the show.
Work-life balance. One of the most overused words, and yet it's the thing women tell me every single day that they want. So today, I want to share with you some common myths around the word “Balance.” and what I'm hoping is that, by understanding these myths, you can get to the bottom of them and discover what work-life balance actually means for you. Before you say anything, yes, I'm aware that I'm talking about balance. And I've put it in my company name. And at the end of the episode, I'm going to share with you why I've actually done that. And when you understand what's on the other side of these myths, I'm hoping you're going to understand a lot more about why this is really, really important to me.
Now, work-life balance is the thing that is routinely topped in surveys as the thing we most want when finding a job. And for many years, it's often more important than money. So, balance matters more than our salary, especially for women and for those with families. But, on the other side of the pandemic, everybody has become so much more aware of the impact of crazy hours and the expectations that we have been faced with, and they are looking for a way to do it differently.
But ironically, as focus has increased on the need for balance and it's something everybody's looking for, very few people have been able to articulate what it actually means. And to step through some of the mystique or the myths, and actually debunk them so that you can get to the bottom of what this actually means, and step through all the hype and the platitudes and the rubbish that's out there, and get what this means for you. So let's crack into the three myths, and what's really going on under here.
So the first myth that I want to debunk around balance is that there is a successful formula that exists for balance. I know, I know you're probably going, “Oh, but Jo balance is, you know, maybe working three days a week, working in this role, doing this, and then seeing the kids.” Yeah, that's a societal collective definition of what some people have assumed balance means.
And yet, I know some people who, on the surface, have what you would quote unquote, say, the textbook “balance” in their lives, and they are miserable. Just because they're working a little bit part time, they are actually thinking about work even more than someone who's working 50 hours a week. So, there is absolutely no successful formula. There is nothing that you can follow.
Before you throw your hands up and go “Oh my god, what I meant to do?” It's really, really important for you to understand what balance means for you. Because you have a successful formula for balance for you, for your personality, for your career, for your occupation type, for your family, for the stage of life that you're in, for whether you have kids or not and how old they are.
And the really important piece when it comes to balance is to understand that balance isn't just an external, structural perspective. As in, “Alright, balance means I can pick up the kids once a week or twice a week.” Or “I've got balance, because I can go to an assembly.” Or “I can go and watch the athletics carnival.” Yes, that might be structural, external balance in terms of your time, and where you physically are. And yet, the reason that my business is growing exponentially, is because many people are starting to put some of those external structures in place, and organizations are getting better at supporting that. And yet, they have no emotional balance, and their energy is still all over the place.
So, they might be at the athletics carnival, but they're still taking a call. And they might be at home having picked up the kids, but they're still checking their emails. And so balance means different things for different people. What I really encourage you to do is, when you're thinking about, “Well, what is my successful formula for balance?” Is deciding what actually makes you fulfilled.
What do you want? Is your career really important to you? Do you want to thrive? Do you want to grow in that area? Well, taking a step back and working two days a week, because that's what everybody tells you is the key to balance, is probably not going to work for you. Often people say to me, “How have you structured your life?” “What is your successful formula for balance?” And I'm usually quite reticent to share that, because I don't want people to think that what works for me automatically works for them.
And also, I run my own business now, so I'm an entrepreneur. As opposed to working in corporate, as I used to, where I had less control over my schedules. But all I will say is that the successful formula for me has been that I have built a life where everything that I have ticks all my boxes, and by that I mean, I have time for myself. I have time to do what it is that fuels me.
Sometimes, that's time alone, and that time alone is not just at 11pm, when everybody else is asleep. It's time alone for me to do the things that make me feel fulfilled. As well as that time alone, part of the things that I need is I'm a very social person. So I have time with friends. I have time catching up. Sometimes I bring children, sometimes I do not. So, that is part of my recipe for balance.
I also have time with my husband because we can, as many people, be ships in the night. And we found that our relationship will suffer if we don't make sure that is in there, and we structurally put that in the diary. So, every Wednesday, we have between an hour and a half and two hours of my diary. That is blocked out from any work, and that is the time for him. Now, a lot of people will judge that and say, “Oh well, it should be spontaneous.” And yes, well, that might be what balance means for you, but for us that works. That works, because he has certainty over when we're going to connect. I make sure that that time is quarantined in my diary. Yes, we do other things around that. But we know that, if nothing else, then as an absolute fallback, that is dedicated one on one time.
Likewise, I have time with my kids. I play sport with some friends on the weekends, and then I obviously have my work. And again, I work flexibly, so I work when I want and how I want. But, I do run a business, so I do also work, and I love what I do. I never feel like I'm really working a day in my life, and I often have to pinch myself to think this is what I get to do for a living, this is how I support my family. But this is what works for me, and it has been a journey and an experiment to continue to find out what works for me, and we'll come back to part of what I've uncovered about balance in myth number three.
So that, essentially, is myth number one that I want to debunk: there is no successful formula for balance. You need to find what works for you. You work the hours that works for you. You spend the time with your kids that works for you, and if you can try to put aside any external judgments, any societal expectations, and do what works for you and your family, that is half the battle.
So, let's move on to myth number two, which I reference slightly in myth number one. And that is that if you want balance, you also are unable to progress your career, as in balance must equal going part time. Or, if you want balance, you have to plateau, because there is an old paradigm of thinking which was based on how the corporate world used to work, and that is that the higher you go from a, I guess, a hierarchical perspective, the more impact and the more responsibility you take, the harder you have to work. And because you have more, therefore you work more, and therefore you work longer hours.
And this is an outdated model, where we saw progress as linear and that progress was directly aligned with output and hours. And ultimately, this goes back to our old industrial revolution days, where our output was directly correlated to hours, because I had to work in a factory and if I worked X hours, I produced X widgets, and I got paid X amount of money. So, that made sense. Hours equal dollars.
However, if you were somebody who is ideally moving beyond working just an hourly rate, where I used to work in a supermarket as a checkout chick, and I worked X many hours at the cash register, and I got paid for those, that is how we start off earning money, and it is directly attributed to hours. I was all about “I need to earn some more money.” “All right, how can I do some more shifts?” “I need to get some more hours.”
But as you progress, as you start becoming a woman of influence, the productivity or your output is no longer tied to hours. Because, let me ask you, have you ever had this genius of an idea, and something has just blurted out of you, whether it was a project, or a report, or an email, and it's just all flowed out of you in five minutes?
And you look at that and go, “Oh my gosh, that's amazing!” And other times, you've sat and looked at an empty piece of paper on an open email and something's taken you an hour and a half. What you do is not tied to time, and so, because of this, it's really important that you need to deconstruct or detangle the word “balance” from hours and progression, because they are absolutely not true.
I pride myself on helping women progress in their career, if that's what they want. And I've had many clients that have progressed, that have taken on multiple promotions, and they're working less. Because, so much of what you think that you have to do at this level, you think that you just have to do more of it, and because then you go, “Oh my god, I can't work any more hours.” “Well, therefore, I'm not going to have the balance I seek.” So it's so important that if you have the right tools in your toolkit, you will be able to step out of this paradigm.
You will be able to, rather than something taking two hours, you know who to have a conversation with, how to have that conversation, what language to use, what to do with your state before you have it, and instead of something taking two hours, you have a three minute conversation and get that done. So, balance is not correlated at all with progression. Now, before anybody who's a lawyer or works in a partnership model turns around and goes, “Hey, Jo, but I’ve got billable there.” I get that.
And there are some, let's say “work cultures”, that it takes longer to move away from. This time-equals-dollars paradigm. And you will typically find that some of the industries, or professions, that traditionally don't have as much balance have been very much built on this masculine paradigm. You have “the masculine.” And I think of law firms and partnerships. You have a lawyer, who's a man, who's a father, who has a stay at home wife, and it's all about men working together and working as long as they can, and as hard as they can, because that's how males compete, that is how they prove their masculinity, and that is their definition of success.
But, as a woman, you don't want to play that game because that's not our strength. You need to play a different game. If you try to do the “harder, faster, more”, we are not going to beat men at that. And this has nothing to do with biology, or what parts are between our legs. This has to do with what makes us fulfilled, and what our zones of genius are.
When you understand how to use your traits that you innately have as a woman, whether that's your intuition, whether that's your emotional intelligence, whether that's your perspective, your relationship building. When you know how to use those as strengths, you don't fall victim to the “better, faster, more”, and “Therefore, I've got to prove myself.” “I've got to go harder.” “I've got to go faster.” And then the thought of “Oh my gosh, I can't take on another role, because I'm drowning here.”
I want you to absolutely know that with the right tools in your toolkit, you can continue to have balance, and you can also have progression. They are not mutually exclusive. One of the main reasons women come to me is because they're on the verge of stepping back. They're thinking “Oh my gosh, my life is so out of balance.” “I have no time for those I love.” “I'm working too much, I can't stop thinking about work.” And they assume that the only way to get balance, which goes back to myth number one, is that they have to reduce their hours. That is because they are trapped in this old paradigm, in the mistaken belief that, “If I go part-time, suddenly, this balance is going to materialise.”
But I did an episode on what happens, ‘the seven challenges that we face about going part-time’ and for most people, they're just docking themselves 20% of the pay and they have less balance than they did before. They might have more structural balance, but they don't have emotional or energetic balance.
So, I really want you to take this message to heart - that if having balance, whatever that means to you, is important, and reaching your potential and fulfilling your career, if that is all important to you, well, I want you to be able to do that. I want you to reach your potential, I want you to have abundance and to have financial security so that you can earn the income that you deserve that reflects the impact that you make in the world. So I'm going to say it again - you can have balance and have progression. You just need to know how, which is a beautiful segue into myth number three, and this is that balance is a destination. That’s right, I will go part-time and I'll do this on a Tuesday and I'll do swimming lessons with the kids on this, and then I'll have balance.
Well, what happens when a child gets sick? What happens when you have a big deadline? What happens when it's school holidays? A balance with a toddler is very different from balance with a teen, because I've now got a teen and a tween and if I tried to put the same definition of balance now in place, I would be sitting there alone with nobody around me, because they're at activities. So it is really, really important that your definition of balance remains in flux, that balance is actually a journey, it is a way of being, it's this continual adjustment.
And while a lot of people don't like the word, work life balance, other words that are thrown around are things like work life integration or work life harmony, and while I think they're a bit kitsch and I don't necessarily use them, what I do like about those words is they imply that it is this constant juggle. It is.
You know, your circumstances are generally continually changing. Sometimes they change too much, but so are you ideally. Ideally, you're continuing to grow and to develop and to evolve, and so the balance in your life also has to evolve. And if you don't know how to do that, then you're going to hold on really tightly back to myth number one and think that it's all about my circumstances and there's some definition that I have to follow, because I don't have the head space to try to find it out myself.
The other piece with balance not just being a destination but being a journey is that for most women who come to me, work is so tied up into their identity that without work they wouldn't know who they are, and so the thought of making changes to that really rocks them to their core and makes them feel really, really lost. So the thought of stepping back and giving up all those hours and all those projects and “I don't want to have to put my career down. But, once again, your work is not just this set of external circumstances that you are white knuckling and trying to hold, you know, trying to line up - it's not about that.
Something magical happens when you realise that this journey towards balance is just life. It's all about trying to juggle the things that really mean something to us, and my experience says that there are three key things that we have to continuously check in on, reassess, twist, pivot whatever buzzword you want to throw in here and that's that you need to have a really fulfilling career where you feel like you're reaching your potential.
Now you notice I didn't say the word become CEO or run the joint, because that's not for everybody, but I want you to feel like you've gone to work on a day and that made a difference, that you've learned something. Everybody really wants to reach their potential. They want to see what they're capable of, they love learning, they want to see what they can do.
On top of having this fulfilling career, you need to have present relationships, and by relationships here I mean relationships with a partner, if they're in your life, relationships with children, if they're in your life, and relationships with friends and family and other people who make this whole. As humans, we are tribal creatures and If we spend our life with our head down, trying to get through our to-do list. Well, we miss the enrichment and the fun and the joy and the connection that is an integral part of being a human.
And lastly, without a fulfilling career and our present and loving relationships, we must have vibrant health, and I don't mean living on the smell of fumes, I mean having energy, I mean having a clear brain so that you can think, so that you can go and have fun and you don't end up collapsing on the couch at the end of the day because you've got nothing left in the tank. So, if you can find a way and have tools to continuously be juggling between these because, again, it's not a destination, that’s not right.
My health is done: tick. Great. Right, the kids. I'm now connected with them. Great. The kids are gonna change. Your health is gonna change. Your body's gonna change. Work goes up and down. You get a new job. There's a new project. You lose a team member, you gain a team member. It's always changing. And when we spend our lives trying to lock it down and thinking that “Right, right, right.” “Shoving here, shoving there.” “Okay, okay, that's balance.” Well, we wonder why it's exhausting.
It's like trying to keep an octopus in a string bag, and the tentacles just keep falling out, and falling out, and falling out, and falling out, because it's not possible. It always has to switch. And underneath you know this balance is a journey. Not only do you need the tools, but you also need the self-awareness. To know that it's okay to sometimes get out of balance, because you know how to bring yourself back, to better find calm, even amongst the chaos. To be confident, even when things are falling over and you have no idea what you're doing.
So, these are the three myths that I am very, very proud to debunk. And essentially, they are the pillars on which I've built my entire business. And that is that there is no successful formula for balance. It's so important that you have to find the right balance for you. I want to absolutely and passionately debunk the myth that if you want balance, you can't have progression. They are not mutually exclusive. You do not have to plateau your career, you do not have to step back if you want balance. And, last myth I want to debunk, is that it's a fixed destination. That you write “Tick.” It is not something on your list to be ticked off. It is a journey, one that you get to go on. It's not something that you have to do. It is a journey that you get to build your life around.
And that brings me to my definition of balance, and why I ended up calling my business “The Balance Institute.” Because, to me, yeah, sure, you know, we want to balance these parts of our lives: work and life and family. But what I have found in the years of doing this, is that the real balance is actually in the duality of life. And by that I mean, we lead from our heads, and we lead from our hearts. And we have to balance those. We have masculine energy, and we have feminine energy, and we have to balance those. We have our hustle muscle, and our flow muscle, and we have to balance those. We’re a mum, maybe, and a partner, and a daughter.
We have to balance those parts of ourselves. We're trying to balance success and fulfilment, and that really is the crux of life. It’s finding balance between all of the parts of us, so that we feel fulfilment, and we feel joy. And when we can get to a place where we feel like, “Yes, you know, I have balance!” Knowing that, just like you're on a tightrope, you're readjusting all the time. Well, that is when life gets really, really fun. And that, my friend, is just the beginning.
OUTRO: Thank you for joining us today on the Balance and Beyond Podcast. We're so glad you carved out this time for yourself. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend who might need to hear this today. And if you're feeling extra generous, leaving us a review on your podcast platform of choice would mean the world. If you’re keen to dive deeper into our world, visit us at www.balanceinstitute.com to discover more about the toolkit that has helped thousands of women avoid burnout and create a life of balance, and beyond. Thanks again for tuning in, and we'll see you next time on the Balance & Beyond Podcast.
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