Why you should forget work life balance and have cocktails instead

Kieran Flanagan @ThinkKieranF

Work life balance makes me vomit in my mouth a little. It’s one of those phrases used constantly but in truth it sets all of us up to fail. I prefer the notion of work life blending. Here’s why.

Work life balance is an oppositional concept. 

On one side we  have life and the other work. ‘In the red corner we have life… love, family, fun stuff and in the blue we have work… hours, money, stress’. Not necessarily the truth, because if we are honest, family can be stressful at times and work can be meaningful and a source of joy. But the game makes it one or the other. It’s a battle that makes the Hunger Games look friendly.

That’s right, the game we have somehow found ourselves playing is to attempt to have them as equals. It is a fantasy state of perfect equilibrium, a nirvana where everyone and everything is in perfect harmony. Then real life happens and we rarely have anything remotely resembling balance and we feel like enormous failures.

Balance is hard to maintain

Balance is something that is ridiculously difficult to maintain. It’s like a seesaw (or teeter totter for my American readers). Easily out of balance. Do you remember as kids trying to get a see saw to maintain equilibrium? You shuffled up and down, you added kids and took them away and it was nearly impossible to do. Sometimes, almost by magic you managed to get the weight to distance ratio correct, for a perfect moment you hung in the air. It was beautiful, but it was fleeting. The slightest shift from one of the kids sent it back out of balance. So too with work life balance. It is precarious and too easy to upset.

What we are balancing is a ridiculously long list

Thirdly we have made the list of things that go towards ‘balance’ stupidly long. To have balance today and be deemed successful apparently we need to: be a rockstar at work, solve problems like a ninja, find an outlet for our creative expression, have a huge social following, be working on our legacy, have a 5 year plan, a life plan and a plan to give something back, we should be crazily in love, make time for date nights and other random romantic gestures, read bedtime stories to our kids, attend every assembly, performance and swimming carnival, share our feelings, get present to what we are grateful for, meditate, light candles, take time for ourselves, have lots of baths, see old friends, make new friends, call our mums every week, have the flexibility of plasticine, breathe regularly, eat whole foods, blend our own smoothies, serve food in cute jars, have a house that belongs in a magazine, throw away things that don’t bring us happiness, know more than one language, travel the world, climb mountains, collect memories, try the karma sutra, try something that frightens us,have a signature dish, a signature move and a surprise move or two so we don’t get predictable. Arghhhhhhhhhh!! I can’t take it, the list never stops.

It is exhausting just reading the list of things we are trying to balance, let alone attempting to balance them. Then we have to review them, get honest with ourselves and sometimes even give ourselves scores in each category. Sigh.

You can see why the very idea of work life balance makes me feel rather nauseous.

I say forget balance, try work life blending.

As technology blends our work lives and our personal lives together so should we. Trying to have them separate is onerous. We need to re-think the model and allow them to co-exist. To take a broader look than simply are they in balance? If the traditional model of balance is like a set of scales where you attempt to balance things by adding and removing things from each side, work life blending is rather like cocktails.

Work life blending is like mixing cocktails.

Everybody likes cocktails! Cocktails are made with a cocktail shaker and a whole lot of ingredients. You chuck in your ingredients, shake it up and voila!

Of course there is a finite volume and you have to be honest about how much you can fit in. You cannot have everything. But you get to choose the ingredients you like, how much of each you want and how they blend together.

I like to make mine a long cool drink, meaning I take a longer view of my mix. Often over an entire year. I ask myself did I have a blend that I loved this year? Did  I get school holidays off to hang with Darcy, did I kick the big work goals I have, have an adventure, learn something that made me better and did my extended family and friends not feel completely abandoned?

My mix won’t be yours and yours won’t be mine. But that’s the great thing about cocktails, there is no one right way.

Just your way.