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Myth of Work Life Balance

I just finished another ZOOM-based therapy session with a client. 

“Covid 19 is forcing me to see how out of balance my time and priorities have been. I know I’ll be happier if I can just find and maintain more work life balance.”

I hear this a lot. “It’s all about finding balance,” and the assumption is that this is the road toward more fulfillment, or peace, or connection. If we could figure out how to achieve work life balance with our down-time, hobbies, house-cleaning, workouts, social media, sleep, home-schooling, friendships, kids, spouses, parents, in-laws, ministries, new ventures, philanthropy, home projects, prayer, self care.

Let’s just say you found a way to get all of the above (or even just five of them) in a state of balance. How long do you think it would last? Probably about 14 seconds. Because interruptions happen, and not just on the outside like your kid’s school start date being extended another two weeks. We have inner interruptions, like anxieties, fears, desires, compulsions, and distractions. 

 Truth: Balance sounds good and all, but it really doesn’t work.

If you’ve ever tried standing on a surfboard in the still ocean, especially one that’s under 7 feet in length, you’ll find that you can’t. Even the likes of pro surfer Kelly Slater can only balance on a shortboard without movement for a couple seconds before falling off to the side.  In order to stay standing, you have to join with the movement and the rhythm of the ocean. You have to ride the wave. 

Growing up at the coast, I remember the surf classes I’d see after coming in from an early morning session. There would be 10-20 tentative yet courageous students learning the basics from an instructor, but they wouldn’t yet be in the water. They began on the sand, lying prone on their boards, and then jump up and stand with arms out, balancing well on their boards over the cold morning sand. But as soon as they ventured into the water and surf, it was an entirely different scene. They realized quickly how different and difficult the elements were only 50 yards away from where they started on dry land. And the ones that stuck with it learned that success was only achieved by not merely balancing on a surfboard, but choosing to paddle hard and maneuver through the rhythm and nuances of the waves. 

We need to replace balance with rhythm. 

Rhythm is about moving somewhere, from here to there, not just getting everything prioritized and “in line.” Rhythm is learning the tides, how they shift, and not assuming or even hoping that one day they won’t . Because that’s not what the tide does. It shifts. And balance doesn’t work when things shift. 

Our world shifts a lot. Not just in the last six months. It’s always been shifting, and our attempts to balance it leaves us exhausted. Our efforts to balance our own lives or the lives of those around us leave us depleted often. What if, instead, we saw each day as having its own rhythm, one that allowed for a little more interruption at times, some more nuance, even some more space that we didn’t feel so anxious to fill. 

I’m indebted to Mark Buchannan and his thoughts in Spiritual Seasons, where he reminds us that Jesus never preached balance. And he never really lived a balanced life. He was constantly moving about through different circles, sometimes privately, sometimes publicly, serving, healing, and teaching. But balance? Hardly. His life was more zig zag. But his purpose was always clear, unshaken, unmoved: get to Jerusalem and die and then rise again for a purpose few at the time could even comprehend.  

Because the things we really want more of, like peace and purpose and meaning and connection, are not really tied to balance. We’ve been told they are, but it just doesn’t work. 

What if we explored what rhythm could like on a regular, even daily basis, specifically in this season of our life? If you’re raising three kids under ten, you have a different rhythm than someone in their 70’s who is downsizing. It looks different for everyone.

Has your quest for balance left you frustrated? What if you tried rhythm? It’s usually more zig zag than linear. But it’s worth a try. It’s worth getting in the water. 

What’s the next wave that you get to ride? Join us for a free discussion on healthier alternatives to the myth.

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