The #1 Reason Work/Life Balance is Always Out of Reach

In a culture that prizes striving and achievement over family, health and personal sanity, scarcity rules. There is never enough time and you are the least important part of the equation. This often-repeated statement tells the harsh truth, “Everyone can be replaced.”

Guilt thrives in the environment of “not enough.” I hear some version of this statement on a regular basis from clients, “I’m always leaving work too early and picking my kids up too late”. These are not women trying to get to spas (I love spas, it’s not meant to be a dig), these are women trying to give their all and winding up feeling like Lord of the Rings’ Bilbo Baggins, “I feel stretched thin, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

When your work is placed at the center of your universe, then your personal life must exist in the margins. Add in kids, then time for your partner gets squeezed into a smaller margin. And only the tiniest space is left for you.

Here’s an example of how that plays out:

Wake up in the morning — check email

While getting kids ready for school — check email/text

Drop kids off and go to work — check email, have meetings, focus on deliverables, have more meetings

Work until the last possible minute — run out the door, make a quick work call on the way to pick up kids

Pick up kids — feed and play with them, think about work while simultaneously feeling guilty that you’re not more present with them

Get kids into bed — breathe quick sigh of relief, then remember there’s still more work to do

Husband/partner comes home — quick kiss, “how was your day?” back to your computer to work

Get into bed — check email one more time or look at Facebook to decompress


Wake up and repeat

This model leaves no time for deep meaningful connections. It is built around getting to the next thing, making presence seem like something only gurus have time for. It comes with a high cost.

Women report health and emotional issues at higher levels than men, and no, not because we’re neurotic, James Damore. But because we are the canary in the coal mine, warning of the employment crisis companies will face if they don’t create cultures that support families, single mothers and fathers, and the need for a little space to freaking breathe.

Women are more likely to report physical and emotional symptoms of stress than men, such as having had a headache (41 percent vs. 30 percent), having felt as though they could cry (44 percent vs. 15 percent), or having had an upset stomach or indigestion (32 percent vs. 21 percent) in the past month. American Psychological Association

Perhaps you think I’m blowing up minor inconveniences, like headaches, to make a point. Consider this: the teen suicide rate in Silicon Valley, the mecca of American striving, in 2015 was four to five times the national average.

The kids were also asked how much they identified with sentences such as “The fewer mistakes I make, the more people will like me” and “If someone does a task at work/school better than I, then I feel like I failed the whole task.” From their answers, [Yale Assistant Professor Suniya] Luthar constructed a profile of elite American adolescents whose self-worth is tied to their achievements and who see themselves as catastrophically flawed if they don’t meet the highest standards of success. The Atlantic

There is no balance when your self-worth is tied to achievement. Your driving force becomes certainty rather than love. The next goal must be exceeded or else you are not worthy of love. And love is what gives life all its juicy goodness.

The #1 reason work/life balance is out of reach is because our culture has prioritized status, achievement and certainty over love and contribution, and we bought in. But taking a stand for what matters to you, putting cultural pressures aside, and deciding to live a life that is on purpose, by design, and based in love is the only way it will change.

Thanks to Emily Hopkins.