Work Life Balance: What it Isn't and How to Achieve the Myth

paddle board jamie

‘Work/life balance’ is not a time management issue. 

It is not impacted by the time you start and end your work day, it is not impacted by the amount of time you spend with your loved ones, nor the time you spend engaged outside of your career role in activities you enjoy. It is not even impacted by the amount of time you spend on your phone/apps.

The concept, the myth, of work/life balance is an age-old pursuit, prior even to the first major use of the term in an Industry Week article in 1986. (Check out HubSpot’s historical timeline of the phrase here.) It has boiled down to individuals wishing to be the master of one’s time, to own the work clock and spend more time with friends, family, and in personal pursuits. In an era of performance and productivity and technology, what is it we are searching for that would achieve this sought after hype that is work/life balance?

It comes down to state.

A 30,000 foot view of our life- as if you were watching yourself float through the various parts of your day- highlights your states. A ‘state’ being who you are in the moment you are in, what energy you are emitting, what emotions are driving that energy.

I am a prime example- a marketing director for a global technology firm (cloud hosting and apps management) who works remotely but travels twice a month, doting mother of two school-age children, married to a husband who is a creative director of an advertising agency, and I spend three out of five weekday afternoons between hip hop, lacrosse and swim team.

Fill in your own blanks to the above mini-bio and imagine the hats you wear throughout the day. Mother, wife, director, creator, driver, raving fan, to name a few. Only by mastering your state in each of these roles, wearing these many hats, will we achieve fulfillment and great joy in our life.

It’s easier to imagine the physical state we are in before mastering the mental and emotional state. Imagine this- you are leading a 2PM high profile business meeting, remotely or in person. Visualize your physical self. Your body is most likely strong, straight and tall, shoulders wide, eyes narrow and mind alert. Your voice tone is commanding and of a certain volume, the pace quick. Hips are forward facing and outward, hand and arm movements are flexed, direct and swift.

Jamie Richie Stretching.jpg

At 3PM, your children get off the bus from school. Now imagine your physical state then. Most likely, your face and body soften, shoulders slightly inward, knees slightly bent. Your eyes open wider, your voice and tone more melodic, pace is slower. You may find yourself bending to be eye to eye, hands resting on knees or lap, head slightly cocked to one side.

You can see the difference- a slight shift in body, face and voice - and it naturally occurs to ‘fit’ the role you are in.

Mastering this state change is a primer for achieving true work/life balance. The ability to command your state as you move through each role will bring joy and fulfillment to your every day. No need to curtail tech time, or set rules on working while in the home, or creating a standard definition of balance. The natural ebb and flow, if present, and on purpose, will manage this naturally.

Our work is a part of who we are, giving us the opportunity to achieve, be challenged, grow and share while receiving the significance and validation of our strengths and contributions. As is our role as partner, spouse, mother, and overall passionate individual. Our mental state as we play each role dictates the energy we exude to perform, and be fulfilled, while we are in them.

Being present and sharing the energy of the role and the moment with those around us - whether in work, in life, or in play - is the true challenge, and the ultimate achievement, of balance.