Work-Life (Not) Balance

I used to believe in work-life balance. Years ago, it was one of the question I asked during an interview, “how’s the work-life balance in this company?” Turns out, it’s not the company that defines the work-life balance. It’s actually mine to choose.

Just several weeks ago I realized that there’s actually no such thing as a perfect balance between work and life. I now believe that we have to choose, to which degree do we want to excel in career, to contribute to the society, to socialize with friends, to manage the household and family, and of course to have a perfect me-time for ourselves. It all can happen in parallel, all at once, but the degree will vary. It depends on the priority of each person and the priority might change over time. Easy example, the level of priority before I got married was 30% career, 10% society, 20% friends, 30% family, and 10% me. Now the combination has changed: 25% career, 10% society, 10% friends, 35% family, and 20% me. I bet this will change again later when I have kids. However, there’s no good or bad combination that applies to all – it’s all relative. The parameter itself might be different from one person to another. I got 5, maybe other people have 8 or 3. Thus, no one should underestimate other people based on their chosen priority level (a full-time housewife thinks she’s better than a career woman or the other way around).

How do I come to this conclusion? First, I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and she said so. Second, I listened to the lecture from two directors in the company I work at. The first director used the term work-life balance, but she did not mention if she had one. She explained that she tries to make a quality time with her family amidst her busy career and organization life. Often she took her children to company or organization events – just to be able to spend time with them. The second director even said that he’s not the one to give advice regarding work-life balance, he’s just trying to look for the fun in everything he does. The similarity between them is that they have high priority level in career. Thus they try to squeeze in other things with the resources that left. The first director turned down a job that requires her to be out of town because she wants to be close to her family. Her priority level for family could be the second highest. She definitely does it all, in a combination of priority level that she believes is best for her.

What is more interesting is the statement of the second director, which I can’t seem to remember. But that very statement makes me realize, it is actually unfair to seek for a work-life balance, while work itself is actually a part of our life. How could we separate work from life, as if work is the bad guy and life is the good one. I don’t know how it’s like in other industry (like consulting or media or advertising that is famous for the stressful work culture), but to me, work is both sucks and fun. There are times where it gets really stressful and tiring. I hold a different value from the company. However, it drills my brain so it doesn’t stop thinking and learning. I have great friends at work, so it’s fun. To the extent of my current priority level combination, I’m good.

To realize that work-life balance is not about the work itself, I have never asked for it during an interview. I am more keen on knowing the value that the company has or its culture. And to realize that there’s no perfect balance of everything in life, I take things more lightly. Juggling all the little things in life is indeed a challenge, but stay calm and serene does help.

I hope with this new mindset, I can always embrace this life with excited feelings, on and on and on. (I hope you, too)

Love, Atiqah Zulfa Nadia