You’ve been told to pursue work-life balance your entire life. The issue is it’s a myth–you need a whole life balance.
It’s one that not only offers you false hope but can negatively impact your life.
Even though it’s born out of great intentions.
A whole life balance involves a slight tweak in perspective, taking your focus from work-life balance to a holistic approach (or, as it’s sometimes called, by thought leaders like Ari Meisel, whole life integration).
Changing how you pursue goals and structure your life can free up time while removing guilt and pressure from your shoulders. Because although the pursuit of work-life balance may feel like a worthy endeavor, once you scratch the surface and critically question it, it’s easy to see how unattainable it is in today’s fast-paced world.
Let’s deconstruct why…
Whole Life Balance: Work-life balance is a lie & this is why
Once upon a time, work-life balance wasn’t a myth but something worth pursuing.
There was, after all, a period when people went to work in an office, stayed there for nine hours, and then returned home to recharge their batteries until the next day. No email that they could check before bed. No mobile phone that allowed them to grab a quick call. No remote working or learning, and no world-wide-web that kept them connected to everyone and everything.
It stayed in the office unless you brought your work home in large boxes.
That is no longer the case. If fact, it hasn’t been for some time. Today, the lines between work and not work have become so blurred that it’s hard to determine if a line still exists.
Yet this isn’t the only reason work-life balance has become an outdated myth because society has evolved almost unimaginably over the last few decades. From gender roles to balancing family life to what it means to be considered “successful,” we live in a very different world from how our parents grew—let alone our grandparents.
Yet despite this, most of us (most of the time) continue to pursue a version of work-life balance placed upon us from a young age. It’s constantly reinforced through the media and society at large, and chances are it leaves you feeling guilty and confused; constantly comparing yourself to others, envious that they seem “better” than you.
Often, it’s because they:
- Are hiding it and only showing you an edited version of their life
- Have committed to whole life balance rather than that work-life balance.
The two entities are similar but also different. Here’s why…
1 – Your Life is Singular
Right now, you are on a journey called life and heading toward a destination known as death.
There’s only one path to all this. You don’t get two lives or the ability to try again. You also don’t get to segment it into multiple paths, so you can experiment with different adventures. Everything you do, and everything you are, is one; a singular life with one person at the center of it: you.
You are the star of this show.
Despite this, we do our darndest to split ourselves into pieces. We try to leave work in the office (an office that often doesn’t exist) and the rest of “life” at home. Although even then, it isn’t easy when you consider your health… relationships… differing social circles…
At the heart of this is the myth of work-life balance. You learn to find a balance and that you’ll be happy if you do. Successful. Content. Fulfilled. Yet all this achieves is the sense of failure and guilt as you inevitably bring a part of work into your personal life.
If you are around your kids, for example, thinking about work means you don’t care or give focus to them. It’s absolute, binary, where a situation is or is not. Yet is that true? Is life so black and white? No. It’s a cacophony of color and an explosion of hues that fall between various spectrums. To approach it in such a simplistic way as work-life balance makes you and “it” a disservice.
Let alone sets you up for failure and a goal you’ll never attain.
2 – Warped Self-Identity
As you try to create all these different paths, you inevitably appear as a particular type of person in different situations. Maybe you’re shy and reserved around old friends from school but need to be more outgoing when out with work colleagues.
You may try to wear one type of mask around the kids and another while in the office.
Then there’s the online world and all those different platforms; you can be anyone you want, which is freeing in some ways. Yet it can also lead you to split your personality into near-infinite numbers, diluting the real you drip by drip.
It begs the question… who are you? Which one is the real you?
How often do you wear that particular mask?
Work-life balance asks you to embrace this. It says to be a certain someone at work and another at home. Rather than embracing your life as one whole, it tasks you to segment it into various buckets and show up as different people in each. It’s exhausting. I’ve spent much of my life like this, focusing more on how I appear to others than embracing who I truly am. It leaves me calculated and constantly on edge, plotting and thinking about who I should be right now, always asking, which mask should I wear?
This isn’t the point of life. I don’t know the point, but I am confident such a show isn’t it. Embracing who you are and showing up as that person is never bad.
Because all you can be is yourself; the good, the bad, and the chaos in between.
3 – Life Forever Evolves
Like a book, your life forms many chapters. Each represents a time, and no two are ever the same. You evolve, change, and grow, as do those around you. Nothing ever stands still, and nothing ever remains the same.
If we look at something like the definition of success, for instance, it may look one way while you’re in your twenties and something different a decade down the road when raising a young family. Everything from your motivations, desires, and challenges differs depending on your situation. You and your life evolve. Yet work-life balance hands you a static formula.
It says to balance your work and life, even though the specifics surrounding these differ when you move from one chapter in your life to another.
You’ll have more time to commit to work at specific points in your life. Other times, you won’t because other aspects—your health, maybe, or your family—requires more of your focus.
There is no right or wrong. Indeed, the constant is always that you live a singular life that houses many facets within. Your journey isn’t black and white, and the path before you is not set in stone. It’s malleable and forever evolving. So much of this is not under your control.
4 – Today’s World is Different
The final point here is to say once again that we live in a very different world today than your parents and grandparents came of age. Back then, it was possible to segment work and life. It isn’t to say it was easy, but the balancing act was attainable because they arrived at an office or factory at the same time each morning only to clock off in the evening to return home.
It had to stay in the office unless they brought their work home. No phone. No email. No Zoom recording to listen in on. They kept work at work, allowing them to focus on everything else in the comfort of their abode.
For most of us, that is no longer the case.
An office isn’t a destination for many; even when it is, the time spent there is more flexible.
And even if you rank among the minority that does turn up to the same place at the same time every day, you can and often will bring parts of your work home with you.
Even if it’s a quick email. Even if it is only a short call…
That line between work and life that was once clear and defined is now blurred at best, indistinguishable at worst.
How To Implement Whole Life Balance
On the surface, the advice for pursuing a work-life balance is solid. Its heart is in the right place. It does its best to guide people away from the hustle and grind and toward a healthier, meaningful, and peaceful existence.
The issue is it’s outdated and no longer applicable.
Yet this isn’t an issue that has to continue to hurt you. There is an alternative, The great news–it doesn’t involve reinventing the wheel. It’s a slight change of perception that takes you from the static advice or work-life balance to the more malleable whole life balance.
At the heart of whole life balance is this concept of integration.
You still need to find balance and continue to battle against ‘the hustle‘ so it doesn’t consume you. Yet the pressure to wear all these different masks doesn’t have to weigh you down and dilute you. With whole life balance, you get to be you each step of the way.
You don’t have to try and separate the different aspects that make up your world, but instead, find ways to integrate them—as well as appreciate the forever changes as you transition from one chapter of your life to a fresh one.
Final Thoughts on Reaching a Whole Life Balance
You can take this often-frightening step today if you choose. As it often does, it begins by taking a step forward and getting clear of your current situation.
- What does your current chapter look like?
- Which elements are most important to you right now?
- Which of these elements is of the most significant importance?
Your life is unique, as is the journey you are on. This current chapter you are in is unique, unlike any you’ve lived so far, and will differ from any to come. Your aim shouldn’t be perfection or perfect balance, as though you stand in the middle of a set of scales.
Instead, imagine you stand on a round ball, constantly adjusting to keep your balance and stay on top. Unlike a set of scales, you don’t face two competing forces while standing atop a ball. Every conceivable angle plays a role. There are things you can control and those you cannot. With a commitment to whole life balance, you can stay on top at all times.