The futility of balance

“Work-life balance” is such a cliche that it’s inspired it’s own anti-cliche, namely, that “you can have it all, just not at one time.”

I don’t particularly like either phrase. The problem with “work-life balance” is that it’s usually a code word for working less (often part-time), which is not only not a big win for most employers, it also requires a very strange perception of numbers. With 168 hours in a week, if you sleep 8 per night (56 per week) and work 40, that leaves 72 for other things. That certainly seems closer to “balance” than working 20 and leaving 92 hours for other things.

This also hints at the problem with the other phrase, too. Maybe you can’t have it “all” at one time if you define “all” very broadly to include not only a fulfilling career and personal life, but also 8 course dinners you cook every night, a spotless home you personally cleaned, sewing all your own clothes, etc. But if you only want a career and a personal life, why not? 168 hours is a lot of time.

Anyway, I was thinking about these things while reading a rather bracing attack on day-to-day “balance” on a website called Fashion Low Down. The blogger (Jen Dziura) had read 168 Hours, and writes that, for the young and sprightly, it’s best to think about balance over your entire life. That is, if you ever plan to retire, then you’d better bust your butt now. If you want to take any time to dial down to care for children, maybe working 15 hours a week, then you’d better work 60 now. After all, “Sites like Guru and Elance are full of moms looking for a way to make money part-time from home; many of them are offering to be your virtual assistant, competing with people in India charging $5 an hour. The prospects are not great. If you want to work part-time from home, best to set that up before you get pregnant. You need to be so in-demand that reducing the supply of your labor actually drives up prices; you want your skills to be so valuable to others that people will take whatever small slice of you they can get, even if it means you work online in the middle of the night when your kid’s asleep.”

You don’t get to be so in demand by screwing around, the blogger writes (actually, she uses stronger language). But as she points out, there is plenty of time to work hard and have a life. I’d say you can work hard and have a life at any stage, but still… Food for thought!

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7 thoughts on “The futility of balance

  1. working in the middle of the night while your kids are asleep is not particularly balanced and research shows that working in the middle of the night is actually a carcinogen to most humans! that chic sounds kinda like a snotty 20-something..

    finding fulfilling work that is fulfilling enough to you that you would do it even if not for a large salary… also keeping personal expenses low or in check with your personal goals — these seem like better strategies for say work-life balance.
    putting your money in line with your values — hmm sounds like a book by someone I know…
    You can mostly do what you want to do as long as your goals are big but realistic.
    Looking forward to reading your tips in the new year. One of the big problems is figuring out what 3 things really need to get done first. I got to my desk after a week off with child and hubby and it is overwhelming the amount of things you can do …. but picking the 3 most important to move you along your goals not that easy .. not that easy and a work in progress for me!

    1. @Cara – I know what you mean. I’ve been all over the place the last day or two trying to figure out what is burning and what is not. It’s good to take a vacation but phew!

  2. Also, just b/c you work from home does not mean you want to work part-time.
    Cutting back to breast feed a baby for a few months is a lot different than being out of the workforce for 15 years — and even then the motivated can get in the game; but we need to discuss what the game looks like. If your 60 hours a week include a long commute and retirement is your only goal, it seems not so great.

    1. @WG- thanks! Curious why you got rid of the TiVo, since it sounded like you had a lifetime subscription in the post! We would never survive a 7:30 bedtime here, though I must admit that the idea of a 4-mile walk then sounds good.

  3. @Laura — So, we ditched cable some time back. I think it’s been over a year. All my TV is Netflix and Hulu now, which is nice, because it makes for very purposeful watching. The bedtime is slightly later now — 8pm — because the oldest is already 11. Yes, it’s earlier than most of her friends go to bed, but I don’t have to parent those children. (We both work from home, so we can also eat dinner at 5:30, leaving plenty of bath/play/family time in the evening.) And we do sometimes let the oldest two stay up a little later for a special reason. And I haven’t been doing the 4-mile walk for a while, but it’s getting back on the schedule soon.

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