The other day, a friend of mine told me that work-life balance is getting old. That no one really wants to talk about work-life balance anymore. Now, I don’t think that is necessarily true; I find that lots of people still want to talk about work-life balance. But personally, I found my friend’s point of view quite refreshing, because without being able to really put my finger on why, I don’t really want to talk about work-life balance myself. Not that I usually do, but I do regularly find myself dragged into discussions on work-life balance and I always think there is something in these discussions that just doesn’t feel quite right.
I have previously explored how focusing on work-life balance can be problematic when studying women and work. Within feminist research it is seen as problematic because it can lead to the assumption that the only constraint on women’s careers is childcare, as opposed to things like discrimination and gender norms. And indeed, it is often women who search for balance, what with their double shifts. That is, the women who do a full day of work at work more often than not then come home to do another full day of household chores and care responsibilities etc. (See Arlie Hochschild’s book The Second Shift, which although over a couple of decades old continues to be a very good and relevant book.)
But it wasn’t until last night when I was talking to my husband about balance that I realized that the reason I feel sort of bored with this whole concept is that I personally don’t actually really want balance in my life. When looking back at my life so far, the times I have felt most happy and fulfilled have not been times of perfect balance between work and other areas of life. It has rather been when I have been able to devote myself to whatever it is that makes me tick. I want to be all consumed by whatever it is that I find exciting (at the moment that happens to be my research). And then at times I also want to be able to prioritize other things that are important to me, or when I need to, without feeling guilty.
To be honest, my life sometimes feels completely out of balance, but that doesn’t necessarily make me less happy. For example, I tend to write ideas for blog posts on paper napkins in the kitchen while cooking dinner for the kids because that’s often when these ideas come to me; I work on weekends; I typically read work related stuff in bed before turning the lights out; and then there was the time a couple of weeks ago when I had the stomach flu but still feverishly engaged in debate on feminism on social media. I think that would probably not be considered a balanced lifestyle, but who cares, I love it and that’s exactly the way I want it.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that many people feel overwhelmed – I know that I sometimes do – and I know that many struggle to manage all the different areas of their lives. But even though it may seem like it, I don’t think searching for balance is necessarily the answer. Like I’ve said before, people who feel fulfilled usually don’t have issues with balance (see my posts The irony of work-life balance and Control). At least it isn’t how I want to live my life. I don’t just want to keep my balance, I want to love what I do, and I want to look at my life and realize that I am doing exactly what I want to be doing and not worry about whether I am dividing my time equally between work and life. Besides, doesn’t it strike you as a bit backward? Work-life balance sort of implies that work isn’t a part of life. But work is very much a part of life. I want to feel alive while I’m working, and I’m lucky to have work that gives me energy instead of sucking it out of me. But I also want to be able to seamlessly combine all the things that are important in my life, which are my family, my friends, my work, and my hobbies. I mean, what else is there? Oh right, sleep. I do need more sleep.