Work-Life Balance is a Myth

A stack of coffee cups

As my coaching practice deepens, I’m learning to embrace synchronicity when it arises. I call this listening to the universe, and I’ve written about a few of my experiences in this post and this one.

A few weeks ago, my sister, Kimberly Westrich, the Chief Possibility Officer for Kimpossibility, led a virtual retreat to help participants cultivate possibilities for 2024. She pulled in a concept related to work-life balance from a recent blog post from my dear friend Giada Centofanti, CNTC. That concept struck a chord with everyone, and they referred back to it throughout the retreat.

So, universe, I’m listening. Giada is on to something here, and we need to get the word out. Today, I’m reposting that post with her permission. If you find it as impactful as I do, consider subscribing to her more than just work newsletter.

Work-Life Balance is a Myth… and a couple of more helpful metaphors

Since I first heard about work-life balance, something about that concept didn’t sit well with me.

It took me a while to figure out precisely what, and then I understood two aspects didn’t work for me.

First of all, the metaphor. When I think of balance, it gives me a feeling of something unstable.

In my mind, I see either a plate spinner or two spheres on a seesaw, where one is life, and the other is work. In both examples, someone or something is struggling to keep the balance.

Do we want to feel like that? Do we want to struggle? I don’t think so.

Then comes the logical aspect. The “work-life balance” concept puts life and work on opposing planes, implying that they’re separate entities competing for our attention, energy, and dedication. This perspective leaves no way out; life and work will always be against each other and, at best, can aspire to a precarious balance.

Instead, I like to think about life as a whole that contains several areas, and work is one of them. Those areas are not competing, nor do they need to be in balance. They exist, and you put more or less energy and dedication into each, depending on the moment you’re living.

So, when I read Jessica de Bloom’s and Merly Kosenkranius’ article proposing “harmony” as a metaphor to replace “balance”, it immediately resonated with me.

Why harmony instead of balance

Harmony as in a symphony, specifically “life domain harmony — the symphony of your life”, they write.

Their perspective eliminates the struggle for balance and perfection and acknowledges that you can act to nurture your needs and desires drawing from all areas of life.

Based on our research and experience, we propose that, as long as your psychological needs are satisfied to a certain degree in any of the roles you have, you are fine. For instance, if you have a rather boring job that provides few opportunities to feel competent and have mastery experiences, you may be able to compensate and satisfy your need for mastery by engaging in a challenging hobby (eg, learning a new language, playing an instrument, or organising a big event for your sports club). Similarly, if your personal life is lacking in social connections, you might be able to satisfy that need via a job that offers you possibilities to truly connect with colleagues and clients. The important point is that it doesn’t matter how much each domain of your life contributes to your needs, as long as your needs are somehow met by one or more of all the different roles you play in life.

An additional perspective from a new musical metaphor

A few months after reading that article, I started attending BeAbove Leadership’s Neuroscience, Consciousness and Transformational Coaching program. There, I learned a new metaphor that I believe can replace the balance metaphor, even if it was born and used in a different context.

I’m talking about the “orchestra of your brain” metaphor, crafted by Ann Betz and Ursula Pottinga, CPCC, PCC from BEabove Leadership.

This metaphor explains in a beautiful, understandable way how our brain works, as well as Dan Siegel’s concept of integration.

The orchestra of your brain model aligns with the latest scientific findings that tell us our brain is a complex system with areas, networks, and chemicals that are not entirely responsible for certain things in themselves but are working through a deep interlinking with each other.

Imagine your brain as an orchestra: when your orchestra is harmonious and plays well, you feel good; when it sounds bad, you feel bad, too.

Sounding bad means that the orchestra’s players (who in our metaphor are the areas in your brain) not only don’t know their part but are unable to listen to the other players to create harmony.

The metaphor translates to this: our brain is made of parts, networks, and chemicals that are interconnected, and they all contribute to the overall system.

Suppose we learn to know them and acknowledge how they work within us. In that case, we’ll be able to integrate and regulate them, just like an orchestra conductor is able to guide their players in harmony without one section taking over the others.

The orchestra of your life

Integration happens when we are able to be aware of different elements (imagine violins, flutes, brass, drums) and to recognize their message (imagine their sounds) in the context (imagine their sounds creating the music together).

We can think about our life areas, or domains, as the different elements of the orchestra. If we get to know, listen to, and honor each one — even if sometimes they may seem in conflict — we’ll be able to have a harmonious orchestra and achieve integration.

By becoming more aware of our parts, roles, and life areas and by learning to make them communicate and work together in harmony, we can become more integrated and improve our well-being.

Your turn to self-explore

Now, as much as I love this new metaphor, it doesn’t mean it needs to work for you, too.

So, if balance for you evokes a peaceful feeling and you like it, keep using it.

If you want a different metaphor and are not convinced about the harmony or orchestra ones, I invite you to create your own.

What image could convey a positive feeling when you think about “life domain harmony” and integration?

If that’s the image, what’s the metaphor?

When you’ve found your metaphor, choose a way to help you remember it when you need it: a sentence, a picture, a drawing, a collage, a song, a gesture… whatever works for you.

Let’s create a database of alternative metaphors to replace work-life “balance”: share yours in the comments!

Want to explore with me?

Metaphors are a powerful tool for transformation. Want to try to work with them? Schedule a chat, and we’ll talk about it.

Giada Centofanti, CNTC is an Impact Coach for change makers using neuroscience, curiosity, and play to help them keep their energy up and their minds open so they can positively impact our world. With her work, she strives to contribute to global well-being, empowering people to make a difference for those — animals, people, and the environment — who are not free, not well, not safe.

Josh is an executive coach and life coach with software executive roots in higher education and EdTech. He coaches because he loves to help others accelerate their growth as leaders and humans. He frequently writes about #management, #leadership, #coaching, #neuroscience, and #arete.

If you would like to learn more, schedule time with Josh.

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