The Myth of the Work-Life Balance

There is no balance in "busy."

If you are living, working, and reading, then you have come across the notion of work-life balance.

Everyone from Forbes to Mayo Clinic has emphasized a need to pursue personal interests while striving for professional success. Doctors, psychologists, and business experts offer tips and simple solutions to improve both productivity and happiness. But is this work-life juggle really possible, or is the very idea just another impossible task on a very long to-do list?

We are all familiar with the Taoist Yin/Yang symbol, that elegant and perfect balance of light and dark. There is a nagging sense that if our mind was empty, we would float through life on a scented aromatherapy cloud of Zen in our comfortable but attractive yoga pants. As an acupuncturist with specialized training in holistic wellness, it is my job to help other people find and maintain balance. So here's the secret - balance is a myth. Life is full of moving parts, and should not be superimposed on a two dimensional image, no matter how beautiful.

This idea of work/life balance is a highly marketable ideal, and women are especially vulnerable to its appeal. Do we need to perpetually strive for balanced Chakras, or can this image go the way of the well coiffed 1950's housewife? As a society, we have only just begun to give up the idea that women have to be perfect homemakers, but have we traded that in to become imperfect multi-taskers? Have artistic jello molds been replaced by green juice? The pressure is on to be more authentic, more sophisticated, more D.I.Y.. We should be modern yet classic, healthy yet fun, relaxed and still highly productive. We mistake this list of contradictions for balance, and strive and fail daily to meet these impossible ideals.

What if balance does not actually exist? Or, rather, it does exist - but only as a snapshot, a moment in the life of an organism that spends the rest of its day working out how to maintain homeostasis?


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The Yin/Yang image is fluid, a lava lamp of constant movement. Yin, the lunar, cooling principle - is more active at night and in the Winter. Yang, the solar, warming principle, shines during the day and in the Summer months. They flow into one another without keeping score, and although one is more prominent at any given time, it will eventually transform into its opposite.

If we payed more attention to the seasons, Winter would be a time for rest and meditation, not holiday parties. Perhaps we would suffer less depression if our culture acknowledged and honored the Yin. All plants and animals need periods of dormancy, and humans are no exception. Who brags about how well rested they are? No one. Who reverse brags (a.k.a. complains) about how busy and over scheduled they are? Everyone.

What does this say for the feminine principle? It does account for half of the year, half our day, half the population, and exactly half of that Yin/Yang picture. Yet resting, digesting, dreaming, and loafing have no place in our daily lives. Work life balance DOES NOT mean that you over schedule every second so that you can work, raise children, and run to yoga without spilling your kale smoothie. Adequate sleep is not laziness, it is a key component of being alive.

Balance would mean allowing time that is unscheduled, slow, unproductive, and (gasp) unplugged. If being balanced meant doing less, living more simply, and facing the discomfort of sitting with your thoughts - would you still want it?

What if we all woke up to this idea that it is unhealthy and unbalanced to be ON all the time? What if we modified our goals to reflect true balance - your house will be clean 50% of the time and you could accomplish about half as much each day.

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You could spend less than than you earn instead of working more. You could rest in bed with a book at least one or two days a week. You could stop aiming for 10,000 steps a day and just take a walk. Real balance is not glamorous. Well balanced individuals rarely make headlines.

Because true balance is in the middle of each day - which is never as spectacular as sunrise or sunset. Extreme moments are followed by many hours of gradual change. Yin turns to Yang and back to Yin again. The middle path is not for everyone, so if it's not for you, stop feeling bad and start rejoicing in your imbalance. Stay up all night and enjoy it!

Personally, I have been released from my fantasies of being either a rock star or a zen master, so this is my advice:

Decide to wake up each day feeling grateful and accomplished for what you have already achieved - for the million things most healthy people do, most days. Now compare yourself to someone living in extreme conditions - natural disaster, war, mental or physical breakdown, poverty - they would be grateful to have an ounce of what you so often take for granted.

Or compare yourself to a time in your life when you were suffering, and remember how grateful you were when you started to get better. Balance is all about perspective.

Today I ate a nutritious breakfast, took a shower, wrote this article, connected with a friend, played with my dog, and put on a clean pair of pants. I washed my breakfast dishes, but left crumbs on the counter. Through these actions I have attained a state of balance and am on the path to enlightenment. And you can be too. Namaste.