“Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.” — Anne Sweeney, President of Walt Disney
Work-life balance is a myth. Even worse, it’s a myth that puts unnecessary pressure on people and encourages people to compare themselves to others, which is destructive. Balance implies perfection. Even the well-known “balance wheel of life” that divides your life into a pie chart implies that if there are gradations in your level of fulfillment in various aspects of life, your wheel will be jagged and your life will be a bumpy ride. People take pride both in being “busier” than everyone else and also in being better at the work-life balance equation. An alternative to the unrealistic pursuit of balance is to cultivate (love that word) harmony.
Harmony beats balance every time in my view. One of the amazing things about human beings is our ability to be endlessly creative, for instance in composing music. Musical arrangements, whether simple or complex, are endlessly unique; they can be as simple as the Beatles’ “Let it Be” or as complex as Beethoven’s 9th symphony. Although harmony typically implies a pleasing blend of notes or tones, music can also have qualities of dissonance. Dissonance can be part of the appeal for some. The harmony we find for ourselves in music is unique to each of us individually—just take a look at any two individuals’ playlists!
The harmony we seek in living is also complicated by the dissonances inherent in life. This may be particularly so at certain stages of life, such as when having a new baby, running a startup company, or caring for an ill family member. You may not be “balanced” in such circumstances, but your life can still have harmony. Two days before a workshop I did on “Work-Life Harmony” last summer, my husband had emergency abdominal surgery, and was intubated and on morphine (he is fortunately fine now). I was not in balance, but I was absolutely in harmony (see below for more on the how-to part). At my workshop, I shared what had happened and how it fits with my view that we must seek harmony, not balance.
“One size does not fit all”—moreover, your idea of harmony might be very different from mine. It depends greatly on one’s temperament and personality, the developmental stage of your life, your core values and life purpose, as well as how you handle the curve balls life throws at you. Understanding and leveraging these factors is what helps you create your own unique life harmony.
Finding YOUR own “sweet spot” with respect to work-life harmony is key. The sweet spot is considered the most effective spot from which to hit a ball from a bat or a racket (okay, so I am switching metaphors here!). What is the most effective way to use your own unique talents and gifts and your core values to create a life that fits your definition of success? That is what you need to figure out.
Three tips to creating work-life harmony:
1) Identify your core values—make a list, whittle it down to 3-5, think about how these values affect every decision you make every day. Making choices in life will be easier when you know and are mindful of your core values. One place to derive your top five character strengths is authentichappiness.com, a website from the University of Pennsylvania that identifies your top five core character strengths. At the hospital last summer, knowing my top values helped me to be very present with my husband and children, to connect with others at the hospital (staff, patients, and families), to not worry about my presentation or the clients I had to cancel, and to learn from the experience.
2) Know your personality–I recommend you do this right and hire an experienced coach who can help you identify the best assessments for you. But whether you use the Meyers-Briggs, the PeopleMap, the DiSC or some other tool, thinking about who you are is key. For instance, what is your level of reactivity to stress? Your preferred activity level? Your need for closeness? Your degree of introversion or extraversion? Your need for novelty? Your use of intuition? Or need to make lists? What about time alone? How much do you need? How much of a juggler are you? Do you need a firm boundary between home and work? Are you laid back or super organized? There is no one set of work-life harmony strategies for everyone. It is vital that you figure out what works for you!
3) Get the data–Apply basic scientific principles for well being and happiness to create and sustain work-life harmony, no matter how you design your life. For instance, we know that well-being generally involves optimism and positive mood, self-compassion (lose the guilt!), positive social relationships with others, work that is meaningful, activity in addition to work (whether it is reading, gardening, cooking, doing triathlons, church, bunko) that you enjoy.
No one knows better than you whether it is better for you to exercise in the morning, work from home, clean your garage on the weekend, etc. You get the point. You have to mindfully, consciously design your life so that it works for you!
And if you are a business or organization, align your company to support work-life harmony for your employees!