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The Myth of a Work / Life Balance. - Myth 1 - Dr. Neil Hillman

Many of us struggle to ensure that we have what’s known as a ‘balanced life’ juggling things to try and make sure that we have a good work/life balance. But the truth is, it’s a myth; we’ve heard about prizing this ‘balance’ so often that we automatically assume that it’s exactly what we should be seeking to have a successful life.

In philosophy, this concept of balance comes from a term called the ‘golden mean’ – the moderate, middle point between two polar opposites, where this theoretical golden mean is the preferred position between two very different states. Like philosophy itself, it’s more idealistic, than realistic.

But if we consider that maybe it’s Purpose, Meaning and Significance that make for a successful life, then to achieve these things, we will almost certainly need to be, at times, significantly out of balance.

The very act of living a full life, by giving time to what matters, is a balancing act; because success requires two things: focussed attention and time. And time on one thing means time away from another… Which makes balance impossible.

So instead of balancing, why not consider counter-balancing?

A ballerina on points looks as if she is floating on air, but in reality her feet are making constant and minute adjustments – she is counterbalancing. And she’s also demonstrating how it is that the magic, those kinds of extraordinary results we can all achieve if we diligently pursue success, can only come from operating at the extremes and not from the safe ground in the middle.

The trick though is not to spend too long at the extremes and to counterbalance – put your work life in one bucket and your personal life in another. Not to compartmentalize them, but to counterbalance. So if time is being taken out of your personal life, you’d better make sure that you are working on the very one thing that matters the most. Prioritise and act on what is the most important task.

It’s a strange kind of tightrope that we all have to walk, but actually, it’s only when we get our priorities wrong that things start to fall apart.

Imagine your life is made up of 5 balls that you constantly juggle – Work, Family, Health, Friends and Integrity. And then remember that the work ball is made of rubber. If you drop it, it will bounce.

But the other balls, Family, Health, Friends and Integrity are made of glass. Drop these and they’re likely to scuff, crack or shatter.

So don’t despair if your reality is that you find your work / life balance, is out of balance. Because anything else is unrealistic. Instead, start leading a counter-balanced life. Let the right things take precedence when they should, and get to the rest when you can.

Because living an extraordinary life is all about being a counterbalancing act.

Drawn from, and inspired by, ‘The One Thing’ by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan (2013), published by John Murray, London.

Header illustration:

© Neil Hillman 2015.

Dr. Neil Hillman MPSE

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I live and work on the lands of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and I recognise them as the Traditional Custodians of this country.

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