This ever-elusive work-life balance thing we’re all so fond of talking about? Well, what if the cold, hard truth is that there’s just no such thing?
I know, I know. Telling a woman who works and also has a life that there’s no such thing as work/life balance is pretty much on par with telling a little kid who’s foregone all manner of enjoyable mischief in the hopes of quality returns come Christmas morning that there’s no such thing as Santa Claus. Yet that’s just what author Fawn Germer suggests in a recent Huffington Post piece. And she might be onto something.
In “Work-Life Balance? The Mantra That Balances What Matters,” she tells us of her own experience:
Years ago, when I was still married and working as a newspaper reporter, I was drowning in an investigative project that stretched for ten brutal months. It was the most challenging and important work I’d ever done, but as that series became more consuming, I kept moving the mail and my junk to the guest bedroom where it amassed itself into a giant pile of unresolved clutter. One evening, friends gathered at our home before we all went out to dinner. Imagine my horror when my then-husband opened the door to the guest bedroom and said, “Look at this!” before exposing my secret mess.
Been there? Yeah, me too. Gerner continues:
In the midst of some of my greatest accomplishments as a journalist, I was exposed for the one failing that trumped everything. I’d failed in my traditional role as wife. I don’t think it was his intent to land that kind of blow on me, but I felt that, if I wasn’t a good housekeeper, I was not worthy. I was humiliated and I was crushed.
That, though, that one hits pretty close to home. The guilt she alludes to, the being judged, the need for approval, but even more: that “failure” on one scale can trump all our other successes. It’s a familiar feeling. And it makes me think. Is it a uniquely woman kind of a thing? How many men do you know who consider their successes at work irrelevant, or even slightly diminished, because they don’t vacuum as much as they should? Why are we so hard on ourselves?
I’ll get to that in a second. But first, back to Germer. She suggests that, ultimately, in our search for balance, what we find instead are choices.
Of course, if you come by my house today, you will see that my office doesn’t look much better than the guest room did on that particular occasion. I’ve grown into my identity and balanced myself out by making decisions that let me define success and failure, rather than tradition or guilt. That is how you achieve life balance. You do it consciously and on your own terms.
Though it seems so much easier said than done, I can see what she’s saying. And I think perhaps there’s a gem in her logic, a gem that should, in theory, help make our decisions easier: Do what you like; skip what you don’t. (For me, that means read, write, run, cook; as for making the bed and blow-drying my hair? Never, ever again.) All we need is to take an honest look at our lives, what we enjoy spending our time on and what we don’t; from that, we should be able to glean a little wisdom as to what really is most important to us. And then, we can use that to help us prioritize, to make our choices a little easier.
It’s a sweet idea in theory. But, it seems that, for women, often it just is not that simple. Suddenly opting to drop the balls that don’t matter as much to us as the others? That’s contrary to all the messaging we’ve heard for years: have it all, do it all. Be all things to all people. Friend, employee, wife, mother, daughter, office mom, domestic goddess, sexual superhero, kitchen queen, triathlete who can speak intelligently on any number of important subjects and tackle the Sunday NYT crossword puzzle in pen. On some level, we want to, we feel like we should be able to be superwoman, even while we call out that unholy icon as bullshit.
And so we keep those balls in the air. And we watch our sisters, with all their balls in the air, and think to ourselves: Well, if she can do it, I should be able to do it, too. What’s the matter with me? Rather than: I bet she’s as overwhelmed as I am. Why are we doing this to ourselves again?
(Not to mention the sad, not insignificant fact that if we were to blow off all the stuff we’re not so fond of doing, there is no bed-making, laundry-folding, hair-drying fairy waiting to swoop in and pick up our slack.)
But maybe, if we could decide to throw caution to the wind and let a few of those balls drop, maybe we’d find ourselves a little happier, our sisters a little less stressed out by the juggling act they’re trying to pull off, our lives perhaps a little less balanced, but tilted more in our favor?
Is such an idea way too good to be true?
I don’t know. But I’m going to mull it over in a minute. Just as soon as I make the bed.