I had a revelation the other week about life-work balance.
First I should explain how I'd always thought about balancing work and non-work life. I'd imagined one of those old torsion balances (we use those in the pharmacy with weights on one side and stuff on the other and a dial in the middle for adjusting it so the plates are even when it's empty) or maybe even just two plates hanging on a point in the middle. I imagined one side labeled "work" and the other either "family" or "non-work" or "life." I envisioned my day split into little identical weights that represented an hour each and I imagined myself putting 8 of them aside as sleeping time and then having the other 16 to divide between the two sides. I always envisioned balancing exactly 2 sides in a zero sum game (zero sum games are ones where there is always one winner and a corresponding loser, where resources go to one person or to the other person, where when someone gets something it is taken away equally from someone else).
It dawned on me the other day that balance can also be a very different thing. In a dance we balance too, weight on one foot or the other or both or neither. I heard an interview with a band talking about how they get people to dance to their unusual music (well, non-western sounding and with very different rhythm patterns). They said they try to dance along too as a way to show people where to put the weight in the dance.
So I realized that work-life balance doesn't have to be zero sum. It isn't choosing work or family or friends over the other where one inherently loses if the other is winning. Instead it can be a dance and I can put weight in different places at different moments but there is no winner or loser, it's all a beautiful mess together but the parts add up together to be the dance. If you never change where you put your weight in a dance, you crash or you are standing still. The ups and downs mix together and sometimes we need someone to show us where to put the weight but the dance is never meant to be a zero sum game. A leap in the air doesn't mean the ground is less important or less valuable or less important to keeping the dance going.
I feel like an important part of this is mentors. Someone who is already dancing who shows you how it might be done, who displays balance so you can emulate them at first and then do your own thing later. I think that's an important thing we can and should be sharing with each other - how are we actually making it work or not. That's one reason I am an avid blog reader of real blogs and not commercial ventures that pretend to be blogs. I like to hear how other people make life work with all the everything that happens to complicate what seems so straightforward.
I've added to my list of questions I ask myself every day now. It went from just "What are you doing to help other people today?" to include "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" and then "How are you being vigilant today?" Now I'm asking myself "Where are you putting the weight today? How do you stay in balance?"