Ashley Hollweg, Ph.D.
It seems to be a hot topic of conversation of late, this notion of “balance”. I encounter it often both in my personal and professional lives. I must admit that, when faced with the barrage of references to it, I find myself equally intrigued by it (professionally) as I find myself annoyed by it (personally). It is not that I dismiss the concept of balance; on the contrary, I understand it and actually revere it, in my own unconventional way. I fundamentally believe that balance is relative; it looks different for different people, and it looks different on different days. This paragon of balance (that is ambiguous, at best) for which so many strive is not only elusive but also the source of much strife and angst, as many struggle to feel (“feel” being the operative word) that they have achieved it. The irony is that those prone to perfectionism are often the ones fervently seeking to achieve balance….perfectionism and a traditional notion of balance are often at odds and, thus, the two constructs seem counter-intuitive, not to mention unattainable.
In my professional life, I meet executives every day who lament (with deep, sincere emotion) their perceived lack of work/ life balance. They feel guilt about time spent away from their families, they worry about the toll their ascendance up the career ladder has taken on the ones they love, and they anxiously anticipate end-of-life regret. Some of these executives who are keenly aware of their perceived lack of balance choose to err to other extreme in an effort to counter-balance their work ethic: whether it is pursuing extreme sports, scheduling their calendar to the tee to accommodate work/ family/ self activities, or the like.
In my personal life, I am often confronted by family, friends and colleagues about what they perceive to be my lack of balance. I fully realize and appreciate that their concerns derive from nothing but the best intentions: an investment in my well-being and happiness. That said, while I value their perspectives and am open to feedback, no one lives in my shoes but me. So, I absorb nuggets of input from others that resonate with me, challenge me and that pivot my priorities in a way that are commensurate with my values and goals. At the same time, I acknowledge that my way of life (or, perhaps more aptly put, the life I choose to live) and the perfectionistic tendencies that are firmly planted in my DNA ultimately fulfill and feed me. From an outsider’s perspective, I may appear to be someone who works entirely too hard at it all and is the embodiment of poor work/ life balance. I, however, equate the notion of “balance” to the reference of “relationship” in the Woody Allen film, Annie Hall:
“It reminds me of that old joke- you know, a guy walks into a psychiatrist's office and says, hey doc, my brother's crazy! He thinks he's a chicken. Then the doc says, why don't you turn him in? Then the guy says, I would but I need the eggs. I guess that's how I feel about relationships. They're totally crazy, irrational, and absurd, but we keep going through it because we need the eggs.”
The lives we choose to lead, the choices we make… they give us “eggs”. That is not to suggest that we should not heed the sound, objective advice of others or tweak our lives to gain broader fulfillment. But, in my humble opinion, balance is a dance. We each move, lead, and tap in different ways every day. I suggest that we allow ourselves the pleasure (and challenge) of the dance without putting undue pressure on ourselves to achieve some stereotypical concept of balance. I believe it is important to define your own unique “balance”…that which works for you and minimizes potential for future regret. Moreover, I propose that we suspend judgment against those whose balance looks different than our own. We all dance in our own way…and, we also get our “eggs” from different places.