One recent morning I sat at my desk. It was barely nine o’clock and I was already exhausted. The morning light was streaming in from my office window – it was that low warm almost winter light. I closed my eyes. “I will read”, I thought – “Not email – but something to settle me, center me, orient me.”
Work/life balance. What is that? Other than something I have preached and attempted my whole life. At times, like now, to no avail; other times, fairly well. Maria Popova, in a recent article in BrainPickings, joins the chorus of many others who speak of how this popular cultural idea is a misnomer. “Is there such a thing as work life balance?” she asks. Or is this concept just another way for us to feel a failure by pitting two important parts of our life against the other; one always requiring compromise?
David Whyte in his new book The Three Marriages offers us a new path out of the tyranny of balance. He says this:
The current understanding of work-life balance is too simplistic. People find it hard to balance work with family, family with self, because it might not be a question of balance. Some other dynamic is at play, something to do with a very human attempt at happiness that does not quantify different parts of life and then set them against one another. We are collectively exhausted because of our inability to hold competing parts of ourselves together in a more integrated way.
Whyte talks about how integration is more of a conversation, and sometimes even a quest for meaning, between and within these parts. This quest, like all quests, is not meant to be always smooth, easy or in balance. Like a conversation or relationship isn’t always smooth – especially when it is trying to grow deeper, stronger or more intimate.
I love this.
I love that Whyte invites us to think about the marriage of Self, Work, Relationships as a conversation of meaning. This allows me to be more at peace with the hard times. Like all relationships – hard times – suffering – if we trust it enough to lean into it – is often a time of growth – of examination. Today, even this morning, I ask myself more probing questions. I try to understand the complexity, what feels out of whack, and why? I want to learn. I want to suck the meaning out of the situation so I can integrate it into my life.
Right now, again, I am learning about how my passion for my work can at times fill my schedule leaving little room for the unexpected. And yet the unexpected sometimes, often, comes. It did this last week, with the heart attack of my brother in law. Now, the conversation between my key relationships and my work is “ON” and it’s a battle, inviting in the “SELF” that has quickly in the space of a week, not gotten nearly enough sleep, or time to think, pray or be held. It’s a conversation of meaning. And it is raging!
Human beings are creatures of belonging, though they may come to that sense of belonging only through long periods of exile and loneliness. Interestingly, we belong to life as much through our sense that it is all impossible, as we do through the sense that we will accomplish everything we have set out to do. This sense of belonging and not belonging is lived out by most people through three principle dynamics: first, through relationship to other people and other living things (particularly and very personally, to one other living, breathing person in relationship or marriage); second through work; and third through an understanding of what it means to be themselves, discrete individuals alive and seemingly separate from everyone and everything else.
I invite you to join me in tossing out the Myth of Work/Life Balance and exchange it for a conversation of meaning between the Self, Relationships and your Life Work. A discussion that seeks to grow you and help you to become all of who you were created to be. When that conversation is in harmony, enjoy it. When it is raging, let the questions emerge, and listen. They are helping you grow.
If you’d like to find a therapist to help you on this journey, contact one of people on our team. They are awesome! Very few therapists are trained in individual, couple, family, sex and spiritual intimacy therapies … but our entire team is!