Work-Life Balance: Mountaintop or Moving Target?

Work-Life Balance: Mountaintop or Moving Target? by Jamie Hansen

This post was originally part of our Finish Strong Challenge, which emphasized components of modern resilience to help participants finish the year on a high note and build positive momentum for 2021. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for the latest on future challenges and updates from Alloy!

When I think about work/life balance, I’m reminded of the message license plate of a friend of mine whose husband has had multiple cross-country relocations with his company:  It reads, “HERE4NOW”. I was taken aback when I first saw that because it felt a little bleak – too brief, too short term. But there’s wisdom in the brevity of its sentiment:  acknowledging the present moment and that it won’t last forever can lead to a sense of clarity in making the most of the time we have. I know we may not be in this place for long, but we’re going to have the best time while we are. That sentiment suits my friend’s wisdom and sense of adventure perfectly. She is an absolute joy to be around.

Work/life balance can be seen much like the message on that plate – refreshing and something we’re so thankful for in the moments we have it, and yet so very fleeting. It can feel like it’s moving out just when we’ve gotten to enjoy its company. That said, approaching our relationship with work/life balance from this perspective can bring a sense of calm and help us make the most of it. Having work/life balance “for now” doesn’t mean it’s unstable, it’s just going to shift as we move through different phases of life.

This fluid perspective hasn’t always been my view of work/life balance throughout my career.  Especially early on, my tendency was to see it as a mountain to be climbed, with its top to be attained, and hopefully not get knocked down. As you can imagine, that has made thinking about the concept of work/life balance almost as exhausting as trying to attain it. It also made experiencing any sense of balance difficult to appreciate because it was soon accompanied by the legitimate fear of losing it. It was when my boys were still in grade school and I was working with busy teens and their families that I began to adopt this more helpful (and forgiving) perspective on balance as fluid rather than static.

So what does this perception shift look like in application? One way to apply it is to see ourselves as pilots rather than mountain-climbers. The pilot plans with the expectation of adapting throughout the flight, while the mountain-climber climbs with the expectation of eventually attaining rest on the mountain-top. We know that a pilot files a detailed flight plan before every flight – even with the anticipation of turbulence, air traffic, inclement weather, and other scenarios that can knock the plan off track. The point of the plan is to provide guidance and aid the return to the flight path when these things happen. It’s also worth noting that it’s called a “flight plan” and not a “flights plan.” The filed plan is for the flight immediately in front of them.  It has an eye on the future and the destination, but its functionality is in the present moment.

If the concept of work/life balance has felt more to you like climbing a mountain-top than being the pilot of your own life, there are some steps you can take to simplify and bring some clarity to the process. First, ask yourself what would work/life balance look like for you this week? How would you be feeling and what would you be doing this week if you had more balance in place? What would your ideal mix of meaningful work and the time to do it, along with opportunities to rest, exercise, catch your breath, and connect with friends and family look and feel like?  Next, list the days of the week on a sheet of paper and plug that mix into a week in a way that feels realistic for you. This becomes the structure for your flight plan, knowing you’ll get knocked off track, but it provides the guidance you can return to. Now, it’s time for a few weeks of flight school. Practice flying your plan, one week at a time, adjusting and adapting as necessary. Once you get into this rhythm, you may find that you actually look forward to the time to file your flight plan, if you will, each week. This can be done as a family as well. My husband and I found that a 30-minute review on Sunday of what’s coming at work and home for both of us could save a lot of time, effort, and miscommunication in the days to come. Finally, let’s earn your stripes. Once you’ve gotten into a weekly rhythm that works for you, this can be applied to a month, or even a whole year, by plugging in the big things, like upcoming events or goals you’d like to attain. The trick is to maintain your weekly practice of focusing on the current flight plan – the things right in front of you to help you maintain your balance.

With the proper perspective, a little practice, and support from our own flight crew of friends and family, work/life balance is not out of anyone’s reach. Even for those times when we hit major turbulence in life, it can provide a way back to the path that works for us. Here’s to becoming more like pilots and less like mountain-climbers as we pursue more balance and boost our resilience in life.

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