If you've ever rolled your eyes at the phrase "work life balance"—or let all that advice on it make you feel bad—you're not alone. Especially with the challenges surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be hard to know where work ends and life begins.
Whether you're someone with a demanding job who needs to work weekends, an entrepreneur who works from home or someone with kids who has no choice but to finish work after they go to sleep, finding some semblance of balance can be a real challenge.
We chatted with fulfillment coach Jenna Starkey, CPCC, PCC to get her take on the whole "work life balance" conversation. Here's what she had to say.
Yes, work life balance does exist — but it's not a permanent state
As Starkey puts it, balance isn't something we can find, set, and forget. She recommends thinking of it as an ever-changing tide instead.
"Sometimes waves are larger than we expected and we must adjust as needed. Sometimes a huge storm comes, too," she explains. "The metaphor is not about staying on the surfboard, the metaphor is about our attitude and energy management in relation to the waves. I know what balance feels like for me, from an energy perspective, and I understand what drains me or knocks the wind out of me. Does that mean it's always maintainable? Hell no."
While it's impossible to predict what's coming and may knock us down, we do have control over getting back to center. "Adjusting perspective is a majorly underutilized tool," Starkey says. "When we look at balance from this mental model, we can relax and accept that we've outgrown an old design or strategy and find joy in getting back on the metaphorical surfboard or in creating Design 2.0."
What fills your tank?
Truth be told, there's a lot of advice out there about how to find work life balance. And if you're someone who doesn't love your job and is striving to make a little more room for the "life" part, consider tuning in to what Starkey calls "energy expenditure."
"Balance is different for everyone, so getting curious about what a full tank of gas looks like for each person is key. What drains and energizes me is different than what drains or energizes the next person," she says. "If you can take specific inventory of how every interaction, attitude, perspective, project, or activity affects you on a frequency scale, you are going to have more data and therefore more traction in attaining balance."
For Starkey, getting nine hours of sleep is key, and to fill her tank back up, she needs physical play and at least eight minutes of meditation. Learning this about herself has helped her prioritize those things, and make room for them every single day, regardless of what work-related challenges might arise. By doing that, she is able to find some version of balance every day.
If you're having trouble analyzing your own energy expenditure, consider using your Silk + Sonder mood tracker. Even a few weeks of tracking moods can give you tremendous insight into what activities fill up and empty your tank.
Consider work life integration
While many of us like to think that we have a "work self" and a "life self," that simply isn't how it works. We might operate in different modes, but our lens on the world remains the same.
"If we look at life through one lens (instead of two) we will have far more agency in our life to show up from values in a way that is truly satisfying and sustainable," says Starkey. "When we remind ourselves that we are the same person everywhere we go, we can relax and put down the mask. We can live in our integrity without switching gears."
In other words, it's OK if it's hard for you to switch fully out of work gear and into life gear, or vice versa. There's a strong argument to be had for the idea that when we find a career that aligns with our values and allows us to live a life we truly enjoy, we don't have to find a balance between "work" and "life" — we're already there.
How do you find work life balance? Do you believe there's such a thing? Let us know in the comments. And while you're at it, make sure to subscribe to Silk + Sonder today.