January 15, 2013
Forget work/life balance; strive for happiness
I'm surprised at how often I'm asked for tips on balancing work and life. Whenever this question comes up, I like to ask people why they believe they need work/life balance -- and they usually look at me like I'm crazy.
Having caught them off guard, they usually stall a bit and then out comes their answer: that someone else told them about the necessity for work/life balance or that someone else said they needed to work on their work/life balance.
Since I love drawing on white boards, I ask them to help me draw a diagram of what someone's life might look like. After some initial laughter, the end result usually is a curvy line (like a sine wave) across the board. At various peaks and valleys are milestones such as birth, high school and college graduations, first real job, getting married, job promotions, having children ... you get the picture.
My grandparents were right: with age comes wisdom. What I've learned during my life is that, like snowflakes, everyone is unique and everyone's life evolves in a sort of sine-wave rhythm. Nothing is a straight line, with all aspects of life in perfect balance at all times.
There will be periods in our lives when we are single with time on our hands to dedicate 50-plus hours a week to work. There will also be phases, such as when we have children, when we'll have less time for our careers because we put more emphasis on our family. As the circle of life (or the sine wave, in this case) continues, we may find that we have more time, once again, for career or personal pursuits once our children are grown.
Are you tired of being told about the importance of work/life balance? If so, then it's time to shatter the myth. Life is filled with peaks and valleys, where we will spend more time in certain pursuits at different times in our lives. That's OK, and it's perfectly normal.
Instead of worrying that we're not in complete balance, we should celebrate the times when we're off balance, as these are usually the times when we learn the most. Instead of being obsessed with work/life balance, we should strive for inner happiness -- because it's through happiness that we will achieve personal and career success.
What do you think? Do you believe people can really achieve work/life balance throughout their lives, or is a better goal to seek harmony and happiness throughout the different phases of life? Share your thoughts in the "Comments" section below.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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