The Problem with Balance–or Why You Can’t Have It All

The other day, I mused about career goals and the balanced life.

One reason I quit teaching was the lack of work/life balance. All the teachers in my life complain about it. But they’re not the only industry suffering from workers finding the balance. Medical professional burn out comes to mind.

Is it possible to have it all? Family, fun, a killer career, and a clean house?

On social media we see people who appear to be crushing their life. Winning marathons and have four young children at home. CEO with a killer side-hustle and an Ironman athlete.

We watched Netflix’s Fyre Festival documentary the other night. The interviewees talked about how they were selling a desirable reality on Instagram. Think back to what is on social. Bright interior design posts. Happy children. Exotic destinations.

Doesn’t their life absolutely look wonderful?

The Truth About a Balanced Life

My journey through the last year has taught me balance is an illusion. I believe:

  • You can be something, but you cannot be everything. Eventually, some facet of your life will give away.
  • If you choose balance, you can do many things, but you won’t necessarily excel in one area.
  • Neither of these lifestyles is superior.

It’s about what makes you happy. If you want to be an Ironman winner (or just a Finisher!), great! If you’d rather find an equilibrium between work, play, family, and obligations, great!

What I really was thinking about was the change in my workout schedule. Last year, I prioritized training for the World Rowing Masters Regatta. I paid the cost professionally by not taking on as much writing work as I probably could have.

This year, I’ve prioritized acquiring new clients but I’ve lost some of my workout time. I still have this lofty goal of racing at the Head of the Charles. My thoughts were on ways I could bolster my training regimen without sacrificing professional gains. Ideas:

  • Waking up earlier to train at the YMCA. Drawback: The Y doesn’t open until 5:30 am. My husband would have to get up, walk the dog, and handle getting the kid ready while still preparing for his workday. That’s not fair to him. Complicating matters is during winter it’s impossible to walk the dog and the kid together before 8 am. We’ve been splitting morning duties.
  • Waking up earlier to train at home. Drawback: Alan can’t sleep through my erging, which is next to our bedroom. And no, there is nowhere else to put it in our house. Again, not fair.
  • Working out after picking up the kid. Drawback: A possibility. The challenge would be having dinner ready at an acceptable time for a hungry toddler. I’ve tried this twice with mixed results. I’d lose spending time with the kid.
  • Doubling up weekend work outs. Drawback: Again, I’d lose time with the kid and family. Sometimes we schedule fun weekend activities together. We’d lose these opportunities, and all so I can work out? Doesn’t seem fair.

A Balanced Life Comes With a Price

3What I’m getting at is there is a cost. If I want to be the best writer possible, something else goes: time with clients, time working out, or time with family. If I want to be the best athlete, sacrifices must be made to work, diet, and family time. If I want to spend more time with the kid, I lose free time, exercise time. And I haven’t factored in life: cooking, cleaning, finances, and all those super-fun necessary chores.

So, true “Balance” is an illusion. I’m not the only one who has realized this. Read about it in The School of Life or by Isabel Rimanoczy, Ed.D. on the Huffington Post.

We have to remember those CEOs with six kids and an Ironman contest are making sacrifices somewhere. Maybe it’s financial sacrifices to pay someone to clean their house every week, for nannies to be there when their kids get home, or waking up at 4 am to get in their training. (And they’re probably in bed by 8 or 9.)

All that glitters on social media isn’t gold. The friends posting beautiful pictures to exotic destinations: maybe when they’re at home they live on a shoestring budget to afford their next trip. Those CEOs at the top of their game? They’ve missed those soccer games and band concerts.

Let’s be kinder to ourselves. Find the lifestyle that fulfills us and not fret about keeping up with those Joneses. Whether we’re choosing balance or to achieve a lofty goal, let’s recognize and embrace the sacrifices needed to get us there.


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