So it’s the start of a New Year and everyone has ‘resolutions’ or goals for what they’d like to achieve this year. And I can guarantee around 75% of us will have ‘Get a better work/life balance’ near the top. I know I sure as hell had it the top of every list of goals up until a few months ago, but now it’s a phrase I absolutely detest hearing and here’s why.
It’s extra UNNECESSARY pressure
First and foremost, it’s another thing to add on to our guilt trip and as a generation we already have enough to feel guilty about. The pressure is REAL. We have to eat well, drink well, be vegan, be authentic, live our best lives and share it with the world. We have to have old school values but live in a modern world. We have to be ‘good’ parents but there’s no definition for what that is. If we work we’re selfish, if we stay at home we’re lazy so we’re supposed to do both – and do both WELL and in a balanced way.
But who cares? Who makes these rules? Who defines what a good work/life balance looks like? Who says that it’s even supposed to be balanced? What does having it balanced actually get you? By trying to achieve it are you more or less stressed? Because let’s face it, when you try to cram a 5 day job into a 2 day week, you’re pretty darn stressed. Or when you’re trying to be present and forget about work for 2 days, but you know you’ve got a sh*t ton of emails piling up and bills that need paid, it’s pretty darn hard. So then you feel guilty for failing and the cycle continues. You’re just extra stressed because you’re stressed about being stressed.
It’s aimed more at women
I’m sorry men, I know it does apply to a lot of you as well. I know my Jason feels it HARD trying to juggle his work commitments with being a present and involved father and partner. He works hard to make his time outside work as fulfilling as possible with other commitments. But he doesn’t feel guilty for working 5 days a week. Me on the other hand does.
I’ve had it said to me BY WOMEN that I shouldn’t work and stop Jason from playing golf at the weekend because he needs his down time. I’ve had it said that why am I working so much and not spending more time with my kids. I’ve been told my priorities are wrong. Has Jason? Nope.
In my opinion this work/life balance thing has grown more and more as women’s roles have changed and their working lives have grown. Don’t get me wrong, I can see why it’s an issue when women who were traditionally at home, are now at work a lot more. Our children are the most important things here, and having their parents present as much as possible is always going to be favourable. But here’s the thing that phrase ‘as much as possible’. It’s not always possible and women’s natural urge as caregivers mean that we WILL be there as much as possible, so to try for even more is just detrimental to our minds and feeds in to the guilt and anxiety that we already have thrust upon us as mothers.
Setting an example for a generation
So in my opinion (and it is only that) this whole emphasis on work/life balance is producing a generation of entitlement. By focusing on making work a low priority I feel like it’s decreasing the work ethic that has been instilled in previous generations. Years ago men and women worked all the hours God sent because they had to to make ends meet. You didn’t work, you didn’t eat. Whatever work you did, you did it well and to the best of your ability, because if you didn’t you were sacked and your family starved. And I don’t know about you but my Grandparents and parents are the salt of the earth. I can never imagine my Grandparents saying ‘I need to work less.’ My wee Granny worked 3 jobs with 5 kids, including one with special needs and my dad who was in and out of hospital for his childhood. No one thought she was a bad mother for doing it, no she was and still is a hero in everyone’s eyes, especially her kids’.
Now I never thought I’d see the day I’d be writing any of this. I grew up with a workaholic dad. I mean he worked from dawn to dusk day in, day out. He flew all over the world and my mum stayed at home to raise us. I resented my dad for this for YEARS and I mean YEARS. Why couldn’t he be at home more? Why did he miss some things? Why was it always mum? Why couldn’t he talk about anything but work? I’m not saying that I was wrong to feel that way, but recently it clicked what I gained from him being the way he was. And that is work ethic, ambition and determination to be the best I can be in order to give my kids every opportunity possible.
I recently sat down with my Dad and told him this. I thanked him for all that he had done over the years and explained that I could now see what he had been teaching me for the past 29 years. Without him and his work ethic, I wouldn’t have the resilience or determination to be where I am today. So was he wrong? I don’t think so. Did he make sure I was cared for and loved by a parent that enabled him to work? Yes. Was my mum happy to do it? Yes. Am I a better person because of him working his butt off? Yes. And isn’t that all we want for our kids?! Do I hope my kids will say to me what I said to my dad? Yes I really do. I just hope I can help them see it sooner than I did.
Personally, I want my kids growing up with a determination to succeed and be fulfilled, whatever that looks like for them. For me it’s working, creating, growing and showing my children that, whilst making sure they know they are loved and cared for. I’m at home as much as possible, but I also work as much as possible. Everyone’s home looks different in what fulfilment looks like to each parent and person and that’s ok.
What even is work/life balance?
This is another thing that gets me about this concept of work/life balance – no one even knows what it is. It’s not quantifiable so it can’t be a goal. You won’t know when you’ve achieved it because it’s an ongoing thing. Are you going to log your work and life hours every week and see if they balance out? Life isn’t a cheque book – it doesn’t work like that. So why try to make it?
Also, what if you love what you do and your work is your life? Surely that should really be the goal? For me photography is my work and my hobby, my passion (and I know how lucky I am to have that), but it means that I don’t really want to clock out. I want to work. So does that mean I don’t have work/life balance? Am I failing at life? But how can I be when I’m so happy, my kids are happy and my family is thriving?
Now I know that not everyone is lucky enough to be in the position I’m in. A year ago I wasn’t. I was working a job I hated, building my business at night and on the weekends and I didn’t have time to see my family at all. By any definition I didn’t have work/life balance at all. But was I wrong? NO!! Because if I’d not worked my butt off and not seen my kids for more than an hour a day for weeks on end, I wouldn’t have been where I am now. My kids would have had a miserable mother and we would have barely been making ends meet. Was it ideal, no? But life isn’t ideal.
We have bills to pay, and let’s face it, life is expensive. You have to work to have a life. Ideally yes, the amount we have to work should be the minimum possible for a fulfilled life, but wishing for that when it’s not always possible can lead to resentment with what you’ve got. So instead of feeling guilty and putting pressure on ourselves to do it all, why don’t we focus on all that we are doing. Concentrate on being fulfilled, happy and grateful and forget about what that looks like in comparison to others or these preconceived notions.
Please don’t take this post wrong, I totally get the well intentioned thought behind work/life balance. We live in a world that is chaotic and stressful and if we let it, the hustle could eat us up and spit us out. But I just think it can very easily go too far the other way and the term that’s been coined, specifically the word ‘balance’ is just unrealistic.
For me, I’ve found that some weeks I’ll work 7 full days straight. I might be away from my kids for 3/4 days at a time. If the opportunity presented itself, I’d probably go to the other side of the world for a shoot and leave them for a week or two without a second thought (obviously knowing that they have someone to care for them like THEIR DAD – imagine, or grandparents). But then I’ll take a month off in summer or I’ll pick them up every day from school for a month. I’ll take them to Disneyland and make memories with them that will last forever.
So whatever your life looks like. Whether it’s working, staying at home, working from home, working flexi, don’t put extra pressure on yourself to make it ‘balanced’. Just make it happy, whatever that looks like! Lx
Photos on this page by Rob Dight – Epic Love Photography