The Myth of Work-Life Balance: In a World Out of Balance

For most people, I encounter in my consulting and coaching practice, work-life balance is really a myth, due to the reality of trying to keep up with everything it takes to live a life.

How is it that we have been led to believe that after working all day, most days of the week and before we must go to sleep at night and with possibly two days on the weekend, we will adequately be able to do many, if not more of the things mentioned below:

  • Working full-time or more to have adequate income to meet our expenses
  • Engaging in further education or training to get a better job or further develop your career
  • Caring for ourselves, exercising, having time with our partner or spouse, making love, spending time with our children playing or helping them do homework or getting them to after school activities, seeing other family members and friends
  • Caring for ill or aging parents and spouses
  • Attending to all of the needs of running a household including: running errands, shopping, cooking, doing laundry, cleaning, home repairs, managing finances and car maintenance, taking care of pets
  • Going to Doctor’s or Dentist’s appointments
  • Engaging in recreation, social, cultural, religious or family events and activities, seeing movies, going to music concerts
  • Having time for a hobby, reading, celebrating holidays, going on vacations, etc.

Life is Fluky

It is not just the life workload of all that we need or want to do that makes things difficult, as you have probably noticed, it is that things don’t always go as planned.

There are crisis’s, conflicts, problems to be solved, decisions to be made, relationship difficulties, accidents, illnesses, errands to run, things break that need to be fixed, and all kinds of unexpected events occurring on a random basis. Life is fluky.

Work-life balance is actually, an impossible pursuit due to the limits of time, our energy our motivation, and the unexpected, but still we act as if, it must be possible to do everything and think what other choice do we have?

Time, energy and motivation impacts work-life balance.
Time, energy and motivation impacts work-life balance.

The best we can hope for is in trying to keep up, but often this leaves out the possibility of having time or activities in the mix, that we are looking forward to or can enjoy that makes life worth living.

The pursuit of work-life balance is really about how can I take better care of myself and my important relationships, in such a way to cut a better deal in my life between my personal life and work life, meaning being less stressed, as well as, having more time and energy for what gives me enjoyment in life.

What Can I Do Differently?

A perpetual question is what can I do, different in my lifestyle, personal life, or related to my job or business to have a better quality of life, as defined by me.  It is usually aspects of our personal life that get put on the back burner or takes the biggest hit, due to the demands of what we must do to make a living and pay our bills.

In addition, there is all the “work” of your personal life that includes the day-to-day responsibilities, as mentioned above.

Often, people I work with are perpetually in a survival mode between their work life and their personal life, with it negatively impacting the quality of their lives individually, as a couple and as a family.  A paradox of life is keeping up with life often gets in the way of living an enjoyable or worthwhile life.

Another reason it is so difficult in maintaining work-life balance is that most of us to some degree have been socialized into believing that the most important thing in life is in preparing for a job, career or a business that can sustain us financially.

In addition, for many people their job, career, or business becomes part of their identity for better or for worse.  We are taught to believe that good jobs, careers or businesses, we own will provide meaning and fulfillment in our lives and therefore is of the utmost significance.

Good jobs, careers and businesses may clash with your personal life.
Good jobs, careers and businesses may clash with your personal life.

Unfortunately, what most people find is that this is not the case either due to poor job fits or dysfunctional organizations they find themselves in.  Naturally, people are going to be worried about maintaining their jobs, careers, and businesses to have adequate income to support themselves and their lifestyle.

In addition, in this society people are sold on the idea that buying or consuming is a gateway to happiness plus the economy depends on it.  Your work or job becomes a high-stakes game, we must be careful to play it right or we can lose our livelihood, health insurance, and part of our identity.

Ongoing Dilemma

Both, work-life and personal life are ongoing dilemmas requiring the right sustained effort in a universe of change.  Ongoing life dilemmas are aspects of our lives that we must manage on an ongoing basis and often are affected by multiple factors, sometimes involving many things out of our control.

We may more or less manage ongoing dilemmas well…at times, and other times may be overwhelmed and are barely able to manage.  Some people I see, feel trapped and resentful that they can’t keep up with life, in terms of running a business, working a demanding job, or attending to matters related to their household, marital or couple relationship, children, family, and other aspects of their personal life.

In addition, there are specific factors, disadvantages, and circumstances that can make life even more challenging for some people.

For example, life becomes more challenging being of a lower socio-economic class, having limited education or job training, being unemployed, living on a fixed or inadequate income, being homeless, and being of a race that faces systematic racism and abuse on a daily basis.

Life is also more challenging in being a single parent, having children with special needs, having couple or marital problems, working two or more jobs to make ends meet, having large financial problems, hating your job, being harassed or abused by a boss, having medical problems, having legal problems, aging, over using alcohol or drugs, having to care for a spouse or family member with health issues, or caring for aging parents who are becoming increasingly dependent to mention only a few examples.

What Are The Options?

Some people I work with feel they don’t have any options for making things better regarding their businesses, jobs, their work life, their finances, their medical problems, their relationships, or their personal life…. and for some people, this is actually the case.

They are perpetually operating with limited resources and pushing themselves beyond their limits feeling overwhelmed and struggling to survive day to day.

Focus on what is most important in your life.
Focus on what is most important in your life.

It can be hard to challenge or argue with some life realities and circumstances that people are faced with.

For others, due to feeling overwhelmed or trapped in their circumstances, they need help in assessing options they do have to make things better in their lives.  More often than some people realize, they do have options to make things better in their life, but may need help in making something happen differently.

These people are often overwhelmed and stretched to the max in terms of what they can effectively handle and often have no one to help lighten the load.  As, a result, they are running on empty, meaning they have little or no energy, limited time or lack motivation for anything that might recharge them, as well as, give them some enjoyment or pleasure in their life.

In terms of their work life and their personal life…. it seems out of control with little quality time for the people and things they find most enjoyable.

Balance is Misleading

The myth of work-life balance means, it is actually impossible to do everything that needs to be done or that we want to do, whether at work or home, even though we pretend otherwise.

Balance is a misleading word, because, at any given time, all the things we need to be attending to may nearly, if not really, be out of reach due to the limits of time and energy, as well as, the amount of responsibilities.  Our lives are more likely to perpetually be out of balance in many aspects if we consider how we are falling short at what we want or need to do for ourselves and other important people in our lives.

We juggle as best we can, but there are often too many balls to keep in the air, invariably some will never get in the air and others will be falling to the ground.  It may be better to think of our work life and personal life as a complex systemic mix that is in flux…. always changing rather than balanced or out of balance.

Most of us, at times, don’t know where all of our time and energy goes each day and week, but we know when we feel we have nothing left or are falling short.

Time and Energy are Limited

In trying to redesign more of the right personal and work-life mix in our lives, we first have to acknowledge time and energy are limited and as a result, we need to periodically be reassessing our life priorities, how we use time and what are we able to do realistically in working toward meaningful change.

We have to consider how, specifically, to be better about how we are managing our business, job, and personal life in order to take better care of ourselves and have more of the kind of lifestyle mix we want.  Our work life and our personal life are forever intertwined so we need to attend to both adequately if we are to achieve a better mix between the two.

More often than not, the people I see often, end up sacrificing too much of what they need or want in their personal life, due to the demands in running their own business or being successful in a job and career while working for someone else, or having to work two or more jobs to make ends meet.

Boundaries are Important

They often have difficulty establishing and maintaining clear boundaries between their work life and personal life.  They may have limited control or influence over these boundaries depending on the kind of business or jobs they have, as well as, how much they have going on in their personal lives.

Some people will not be able to redesign their work and personal life, because of the limits related to time, energy, and the need for income, as well as, the nature of ongoing stressors they may face.

Redesigning your life to have a better quality personal and work-life mix may be possible for you, but you have to realistically assess your situation and then be committed to making small changes, otherwise, it will be easy for your life to continue as it has been or for it to become more problematic.  Part of the problem for some people is having unrealistic expectations about what is feasible in being able to accomplish in their lives with the time and energy they have each day, week, and month.

Start With Incremental Changes

No matter how much you like to be different in your life most change starts with incremental changes.  Usually, there are no revolutions or transformations in our lives.

Unfortunately, many people, especially high achievers, embrace the myth that there is no limit to what they can do, if they are motivated, determined or willing to make the right effort.  This of course comes at a cost…usually in terms of neglecting to adequately care for yourself, your health and in being able to maintain quality relationships with your spouse, partner, children, family and friends.

We all have our limits physically, mentally, emotionally, as well as, with respect to motivation, time and energy.  The reality involves challenging your unrealistic expectations and problematic narratives in your head to be more realistic in focusing your efforts in working toward your desired outcomes.

This means you may have to downsize some of your expectations that are unrealistic or contributing to feeling overwhelmed because they take you beyond your limits.

The question is….Is there anything you can downsize to some degree regarding your responsibilities, interests, tasks or activities related to your business, job, personal life, or family obligations to make more time to better care for yourself, as well as, enjoy your life more?

Our Lives May Evolve

Another part of the work-life mix problem is that for most of us, our lives keep becoming more complex or may evolve in problematic or unexpected ways as mentioned earlier.  As businesses grow, they increase in complexity requiring more flexibility, resources, people, expertise, and systems involving suppliers, partners, managers, employees and customers.

Sometimes, business owners have difficulty letting go and delegating responsibilities until things become too unmanageable and they become overwhelmed with stress and problems they may not be able to handle on their own.  Businesses that are growing at a rapid rate can overcome the capacity the organization has to support and sustain their growth taxing resources and people to the point of diminishing returns.

Household and family responsibilities can also grow beyond the capacity of the parents or family to be able to manage in a healthy or productive manner.  There can be too many after school and weekend activities for the children or adults as well as too many home projects or other matters on top of the usual day-to-day tasks and responsibilities.

Professional and non-professional jobs can become more problematic because they tend to grow with increased responsibilities and workloads with fewer people to help, as well as, organizational, management, market, and technological changes.  People are often expected to do more work as jobs and responsibilities are redistributed as a result of people leaving or retiring from an organization.

For some people with limited education or training, who have to work low-paying jobs, it may be necessary for them to work more than one job or they may be going further into debt causing more stressors.

The increasing complexity of our lives is a function of what we have taken on in life, how our businesses or jobs continue to change, how challenging our couple, children, family, and friends relationships are, as well as, how much our financial and material things consume us.  There are many complex and changing factors and circumstances in our lifestyle to be trying to manage that can become overwhelming if we are not able to manage properly.

The Pace of Our Lives Keeps Accelerating

In 1983, an experimental film, Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance, directed by Godfrey Reggio with music by Phillip Glass came out that was basically time-lapsed photography that gave a speeded-up view of different aspects of our day-to-day lives and our complex society.  As the movie goes along, it speeds up gradually and there is more complexity to what you were seeing along with a fast-paced and intense soundtrack of Phillip Glass’s electronic music.

The movie came out before the internet, social media and everyone being plugged into their smart phones, but it adequately described then and now the worrisome accelerated pace of our lives, as we all are hurtling through time toward an uncertain future.

We are more aware today of what’s going on in real time, than ever before, and as a result, are more likely to be overloaded with information, as well as, running various worrisome narratives about what may happen and how it might impact our lives.

In addition, many parties and various technologies on-line are tracking and vying for our attention with stories, facts, real news, fake news, conspiracies, marketing, sales, scams, and other content that blur the lines between what is real and what is not adding to our day-to-day stressors.

In the United States and other countries, there are value and culture wars, real wars, political upheavals, political corruption, injustice, domestic terrorism, mass shootings, social change, religious fanaticism, technological changes, tribalism, nationalism, climate change and a host of other things, we face that seem difficult or insurmountable that adds to our stress and a sense of helplessness or hopelessness.

Hopelessness and helplessness will increase stress in absence of meaning
Hopelessness and helplessness will increase stress in absence of meaning

There is also a greater sense that our Government, the Congress, the Senate, our military, our law enforcement, our legal system, the constitution and other institutions that we used to rely on no longer can protect us from the threats of wars, climate change, domestic terrorists, mass shootings, violence, crime, disinformation, artificial intelligence, algorithms, hacking, identity theft, cyber attacks, data ransom, internet fraud, other various scams and now UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) .

Lying, deception, disinformation, alternative facts, fabrication, false accusations, conspiracies, propaganda, blame, political gridlock, either/or thinking, disregard for laws and the constitution, hatred, xenophobia, prejudice, discrimination, systematic racism, voter suppression, injustice, treason, greed, ignorance, delusional thinking and lack of accountability has become acceptable by many corporate, political, religious leaders, and others.

Extreme Right wing news media, religious media, Social media and the internet has managed to influence large segments of our society in believing lies and radicalizing some people’s beliefs related to truth, morality, ethics, corruption, politics, and religion in ways that used to be intolerable.

It seems, today, all is fair in love, war, politics, business, religion, news media, social media and the internet in the New Age of Disinformation.

There seems to be more possible threats to our day-to-day sense of security and well-being that continually makes us feel more chaotic, vulnerable, fearful and at risk.

Life today, clearly seems more out of balance than ever before.

Depending on how closely you follow the news, and social media regarding the worst things happening, as well as, hearing disinformation, you may find yourself constructing a negative, problematic, angry, aggrieved, hopeless, helpless, and overwhelming narrative in your head that perpetuates worry and stress for you, making it more difficult to do all that you must do to maintain a healthy lifestyle mix.

The running narrative, like bad software in your head does not make any of the real world problems better since we have little, if any influence over what is happening in the world.

This is not to say you shouldn’t become involved in causes, movements, groups, or activities that represent important values or work toward make meaningful change, if you are interested.

While our brains have some capacity to compartmentalize, we have to also make a concerted effort to downside or filter out the barrage of incoming information and problematic narratives that can become toxic regarding our well being.

It is also difficult to stop the constant interruption of checking our phones for e-mails, voice mails, social media, or looking up countless things that don’t matter on the internet.

This adds to our stress and makes it difficult to concentrate and be present with the important or enjoyable aspects of our lives.

So it is a combination of all that we perceive we need or want to do, the limits of time and energy to do it, as well as, the ability to manage the stressors and self-regulate whether on a micro or macro level that gets in the way of having more of the kind of life we want.

How The Pandemic Has Compounded The Work Life Mix Problem.

On top of everything mentioned above that contributes to managing our complex and stressful lives there has been a pandemic the past year that continues with an uncertain end.

Since the pandemic started in the Spring of 2020, there was an inadequate response by the Federal Government, as well as, limits of State Governments in managing the spread of the virus and no vaccine in sight.

As a result, there were substantial work and life changes and increasing stress levels in everyone’s lives that spiked along with the spread of the virus.

This has to do with multiple factors, but the main ones related to the stress regarding risk of serious illness or death related to contracting the virus that is only now beginning in the United States to be less out of control due to more people receiving the vaccines.

Over 570,000 people have died in United States with almost 32 million people having contracted the virus, as of this writing.

While there continue to be people who don’t believe the virus is real, are convinced it is a conspiracy or are anti-vaccine, 231 million have been vaccinated in this country at the time of this writing.

There is also the extra stress with the pandemic due to the political environment with some political and religious leaders who are incompetent, don’t believe in science or medicine, and continue to thwart the medical experts.

In addition they are spreading disinformation and conspiracies about the virus, as well as spreading false remedies, thus turning a world health problem into a political issue for far right wing politicians and Evangelical Christians.

There has also been the growing impact on the economy with businesses continuing to be closed, increased unemployment and the uncertainty as to how and when Covid-19 will be controlled enough through having more people in society being vaccinated so that society and business can be open again.

The full impact on the economy is not yet evident even as some businesses gradually open up at some capacity at different rates in different states.

Predictions by some economic experts were of another Great Depression requiring major government intervention to avoid a further downward spiral of the economy and now a prediction of a possible boom in business and the economy in addition to what has gone on with the Stock Market along during the Pandemic.

Many people have been thrown into panic and survival mode as result of having lost their jobs, savings and health insurance and are waiting for further help from the Federal Government in order to make up for their losses.

For those who are lucky enough to have a job, many are working remotely at home with their spouses, who are also working remotely and with children who are doing school remotely.

As a result, there has been an intense blending of personal, work, marital and family issues and stressors with little time or opportunity for separation for individual care taking or other pursuits.

At the same time, due to the lockdowns and need to stop the spread of COVID-19 many avenues to reduce stressors and improve coping such as recreational activities, social functions, cultural events, sports events, movies, art museums, music concerts, dance performances, religious services and other options have not been available to engage in person.

This has made it difficult to maintain functional coping mechanisms in order to manage the stressors in our lives, to relax, recharge, have the benefit of social connection and have alternatives to working our jobs, maintaining a business and dealing with our personal lives.

Some people are coping by increased eating, using of alcohol and other substances, along with too much inactivity.

People in general are more depressed, anxious, irritable, on edge and less tolerant when things go wrong in their day-to-day living.

Life has become more daunting since the Pandemic with a need to do more with increased stressors and less ways to help improve coping.

The mix of life or work-life balance has become more toxic and challenging to sustain.

How People Are Coping with The Pandemic

Well, if you believe in science and that COVID-19 is a serious virus, you were probably doing everything you could to be safe and not expose yourself or others to it.  We learned that people could get mild cases of the virus and survive, but might also have residual symptoms and problems that stay with them longer, while others may make a complete recovery.

Front line medical personnel such as EMT, Nurses and Physicians indicate there is a variability that is difficult to explain as to who gets the virus and whether they will survive or not regardless of age, sex, race, and pre-existing medical conditions.  On the other hand, some people gambled with their own or others lives, because of they didn’t and still don’t believe the virus is real.

It is important to keep in mind that the Pandemic has been a global war with two main fronts.

The first one is obviously, a new spreading virus that was unknown regarding it’s origin, path, and course of treatment. Now that we have vaccines and learned how to better treat people who contract the virus the prognosis is better for individuals and society.  While at this time the numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths have gone down in other countries the virus continues to rage killing large numbers of their populations.

The second virus front involves many political and religious leaders who somehow see the virus as a threat to their freedom, political views and religious beliefs to the degree of denying what the World Health Organization and The Center for Disease Control in the U.S. recommended in preventing the spread of the virus.

We have somehow been transported back to the European “Middle Ages” instead of living in a new “Age of Enlightenment” in the 21 First Century despite enormous scientific, medical and technological advancement.  There is a confounding ignorance, conspiracy theories and collective delusion coupled with a culture war that has deepened the divide in the country and put some people at risk of illness or death.

In My Practice

In my counseling and coaching practice, there are a number of things that clients have done to improve their coping with the pandemic despite the lack of access to usual interests, activities, events, and social interactions they engaged in before the pandemic.  For some people coping with the pandemic has increased their life stressors, while for others they have found more time to engage with partners, spouses, and children.

Some people have managed to continue to engage in self-care, interests, activities, and socializing despite the constraints and restrictions of the pandemic.  Others have become more withdrawn, isolated, inactive, depressed, anxious, and discouraged due to the constraints caused by the virus and the uncertainty of when things will return to a new normal.

What people need to do in their lives to maintain a better work-life balance or lifestyle mix is what they also must do, even though more challenging, in coping with the pandemic.  For those who had busy and excessive work and personal demands before the pandemic, they may have found more flexibility and downtime for self-care if working remotely rather than when in the office.

The opposite is true for others who may have lost their jobs, their health insurance, their savings and have struggled to survive with the help of family, friends, or relief from the government.  Their job stressors and work stressors may have increased making it more difficult to cope and attend to both their work life and their personal life.

Job, work and personal stressors have increased during the pandemic
Job, work and personal stressors have increased during the pandemic

The Great Divide

There is a great divide between the circumstances of those two very different worlds due to the pandemic.  In general, the pandemic has made it even more challenging to have a healthy work-life balance or lifestyle mix.

In addition, it has forced many people to reassess their jobs and lifestyle, in terms of what is really important to be doing for themselves and their partners, spouses, or families.  As more people have become vaccinated and the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have gone down businesses have started to open up again.

However, many people are having difficulty transitioning back to work or feeling comfortable in public becoming confused about wearing masks or when to avoid people in public.

Businesses are finding they are meeting employee resistance to coming back to the office after having been able to work from home remotely.  Working remotely has given employees more latitude in when and how they do their jobs without the interference of managers and coworkers.

In addition, some managers and employees have realized their work environment culture is oppressive, abusive, or toxic in ways they don’t want to return to.  Some people are quitting their jobs since there may be other opportunities to work remotely or in a company that has a healthier work culture.

Companies trying to hire front-line workers are finding they need to provide hiring bonuses or increased hourly wages to attract workers.  One of the results of the pandemic that is playing out is an ongoing reassessment of the workplace by employees and managers and business owners in the interest of there being a better work-life fit that may work better for everyone.

Where to Begin to Make Your Work-Life Mix Better in Your Life

Here are some beginning questions to consider as you recognize the myth of work-life balance and as you have had to learn ways to cope with the changes in your life due to pre and post Pandemic.

Some questions may prompt your thinking about what you want to change and how to go about that change related to your personal and work life mix.

  1. What are the most challenging and problematic issues or concerns related to your personal life.
  2. What are the most challenging or problematic issues or concerns related to your work, job, or your business?
  3. How much time do you have to engage in physical, recreational, couple, family, or social interests and activities on a weekly or monthly basis?
  4. How do you typically manage the stressors in your personal and work life?
  5. What tasks, responsibilities, or activities deplete your energy at home?
  6. What tasks, responsibilities, or activities deplete your energy at work on your job or in running your business?
  7. How frequently do you take a break or engage in interests and activities that give you energy during the day or week?
  8. How frequently do you feel worried, anxious, depressed, fatigued, unmotivated, helpless, overwhelmed or hopeless about your life?
  9. What negative or problematic narratives related to aspects of your personal or work life do you find running through your mind on a regular basis?
  10. Do the narratives relate more to the past, present, or future?
  11. What, if anything can you do to influence, control, or resolve troubling aspects of your problematic narratives?
  12. What kinds of things do you feel you are missing out on in life that you wish you weren’t?
  13. If you were able to designate more personal time to engage in something in your personal life that you might enjoy, what would you most like to do?
  14. What are you looking forward to in your personal life?
  15. How would you most like to see your personal life and work-life change?

Changing aspects of your personal life or your work life to find a better work-life balance or lifestyle mix can be challenging with all that we face in trying to keep up with everything in our lives.

However, if we don’t take time to assess what is not working and what we would like to change, the quality of our lives will keep running away from us.

Copyright 2021, The Myth of Work-Life Balance: In a World Out of Balance, M. Douglas Evans, All Rights Reserved.

Leave a Comment