Three Reasons Why It’s Work+Life “Fit” (Not, Balance)

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(This is the first post I wrote for MomsRising’s Peaceful Revolution.  It appeared last week in The Huffington Post)

The economy continues to teeter between Recession and recovery, and we are being asked to do more with less both at work and in the rest of our lives.  As a result, the challenge of how to manage it all remains front and center for many, including mothers.

In our quest for big answers, sometimes we forget that simply reframing how we think about, talk about, and approach an issue can make a big difference.  Try this…instead of enduring the ongoing daily frustration of never achieving “work/life balance,” focus on optimizing your unique “work+life fit.” Here are three reasons why the shift from “balance” to “fit” makes a difference in your well-being:

Reason #1:   There’s no “right” answer, only what works for you and your unique work and personal realities at any given day or period of your life.  No one is right, therefore, no one is wrong.  By removing the judgment from ourselves and on others, we automatically relieve at least some of the guilt that can paralyze us from taking action.

So next time you arrive home with a pizza for dinner after staying late for the third night in a row finishing a project and see your neighbor cooking through kitchen window, what are you going to think?  “Next week when the project is finished I’ll make a point of having a home cooked meal.”  It’s not, “I must be a terrible mother.” That’s your work+life fit.

Reason #2:  It’s an action verb; not a destination noun. If you focus on a predetermined outcome or “balance” to gauge success, you will often be disappointed because many of the factors that influence whether you reach that goal are out of your control.  But if you consciously optimize the way those same circumstances “fit” together on and off the job, then your focus turns to how you feel about the process regardless of the outcome.  You can control the action (see #3).

For example, you’re disappointed that you had to ask your sister to take your mother to her chemotherapy appointment because you had to work, but you’ve arranged to help her grocery shop and pay bills on your day off.  If your predetermined “balance,” was to take your mother to chemotherapy, then you will feel frustrated.  But, instead, you adapted and found a way to be supportive given the current circumstances.  You took action you could feel good about.

Reason #3: It’s strategic, not reactive. As the previous example shows, many of the factors that determine “balance” are out of your control; therefore, it’s easy to become reactive, constantly responding (perhaps not very effectively) to what’s coming at you.  But if you expect that optimizing your work+life “fit” is an ongoing, ever-changing process, then you will be more strategic and nimble in your response.  You will plan accordingly.

For example, when you realized in advance that your work schedule conflicted with your mother’s chemotherapy, you devised an alternative solution.

If you look at the definition of “strategic” in the dictionary, you find, “(related to) a careful plan or method; the art of devising or employing plans or stratagems toward a goal.”  Your goal is to influence, account for, and anticipate how to best “fit” work and the rest of your life together at any point in time.  Sounds logical, right?  Guess what, we don’t do it.  Here’s my proof…

For years, people would swear, “But, Cali, I do manage everything, and I’m still overwhelmed.”  So I began giving a little quiz before each of my speeches.  Here are the typical results from group of employees at a Fortune 500 consumer products company:

78% said that they “Actively manage my work and personal responsibilities and goals daily or weekly.”

43% said that they “Always keep a calendar with all of my personal and work responsibilities and goals in one place.”

32% said that they “Set aside time daily or weekly to check in with myself and answer the question, “What do I want?”

Strategic work+life fit means keeping all of your work and personal “to dos” in one central location so you have a complete picture of what is happening in all areas of your life (why it’s work “+” life).  You need to set time aside at least weekly to check in with yourself to make sure you are where you want to be with your “fit” given your most current set of circumstances.  And then change as many realities as you can to close any gap between what you want and where you are, knowing there is no right answer.  Only what works for you.

Your unique work+life “fit.”  No right answer, only strategic, judgment-free action.

  • Torry-Themas

    I think the work-life ‘fit’ and not ‘balance’ is right. You can not balance them easily withing the existing culture of work – all you can try to do is fit everything in that you need and want to do. I also think that people work too much – and as employers, employees and self-employed, we all can all try harder to find balance between work and life. Time for YOU. 21hours could be the basic working week as opposed to the massive 40hours (or a lot more). It is too much and cannot be sustained for a lifetime. People are not machines.

    The Future of Work

    The moral basis for 21hours a week is upon the idea (I believe) that if living standards are improved (for example – time for leisure, health, good food, family etc.) that people will get by with less money. There may be some middle way between the existing system and an imposed 21 hour working week. Germany would entertain this idea at least as their culture is very family orientated (for instance – they do not open their shops on a Sunday so people who work in the retail sector do not have to work on this day). Here in Britain, on the other hand, this would never wash. We work the most hours in Europe.

    People live to work and I think this attitude can be traced back to, what Max Weber called ‘The Protestant work ethic’. This label is more relevant to the times in which this sociologist deemed it a phenomenon of industrial society (19th Century). But the idea of a ‘work ethic’ or a moral obligation to work oneself into the ground (in effect) with excessive hours of gainful employment dominates the culture of work.

    I work around 20hours a week and earn enough to get by. I like to have time to think. I have always been told that ‘time to think’ is a dangerous thing. I think this goes hand in hand with the notion that ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’.

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  • I love that the national conversation is finally shifting away from “balance.” I have always been a working mom, and this concept has never rung true to me. Balance implies equal. This is not the case for my life, nor for many of the working parents I know. My recent doctoral work on mid-career mothers in higher education also indicated that “balance” was an unrealistic dichotomy that is not attainable, and thus, no longer useful. The findings from my study suggested instead, “work-life negotiation.” We all have roles and responsibilities that we are constantly negotiating. Thanks for raising awareness for the cause!
    Best,
    Dr. Monica M. Fochtman

  • Hi Monica,

    You are right. It is an ongoing work+life fit negotiation!

    Best,
    Cali