From Audrey Hepburn to Taylor Swift, some of the most breathtaking celebrities in the world have claimed that happiness is the true harbinger of beauty. And yet attempting to juggle the things that many women feel bring them a sense of happiness—a successful career, a loving family and a happy home life—can also be the main source of stress in their lives. See which myths surrounding the idea of work-life balance can and should be dispelled, and learn how you can take action to bring harmony—if not total equilibrium—to your life.
Myth 1: Work-life balance is 50-50.
“The problem with this concept is that we think of ‘balance’ as a scale that evenly distributes work and life,” says certified life coach and author Lisa Baker-King. “It’s like trying to look like an airbrushed model: a beautiful image, but impossible to achieve.” Instead of constantly trying to reach a perfect balance, Baker-King suggests adjusting your thinking instead. “Think of work-life balance as a swinging pendulum,” she says. “Give [yourself] permission to swing to the business side with intense focus, and do the same by swinging to the life side of the pendulum with just as much vigor.” Thinking about balance as a pendulum gives us permission to be in the moment and completely present, no matter what side we are on, she explains. “Perception changed equals less stress!”
Myth 2: Success is what you see on Instagram.
“Back in the day, when we saw a family photo on someone’s mantle, we looked at the family members decked out in matching outfits and polished smiles and would think, ’There’s no way they look like this all the time,’” says counselor and family therapist Melody Li, LMFT-A, NCC. “But with the introduction of social media, people are constantly posting shots of their ‘everyday’ lives to give the impression of perfection. For numerous reasons, we buy into it and may feel inferior when we look around at our real-life surroundings.” Taking part in a “digital detox”—completely turning off technology for a week—is the advice of Flip Brown, a Vermont-based licensed psychologist and author of Balanced Effectiveness at Work: How to Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor Without Driving Yourself Nuts. “Imagine if you printed out on paper all of your emails, tweets, instant messages, etc., for one week and then sorted through them—what number of items would be ones that truly spoke to your values, your vision, your spirit? Would that number be 10%? 5%? 2%?” Taking a break from social media will help break the spell of the perfection myth and allow you time to adjust your perception of what you’re actually viewing—an edited version of life that has little basis in reality.
Myth 3: If you work hard enough, you can do everything well all of the time.
“Seeking to be perfect at work and home only increases stress and decreases productivity and positive relationships,” says certified executive coach Geraldine Markel, Ph.D., who is also the award-winning author of Actions Against Distractions: Managing Your Scattered, Disorganized and Forgetful Mind. “The key is to create your own definition of excellence for work and home, and strive for that over time.” Being practical about what you are able to accomplish within the hours of a day is more realistic and much less overwhelming, adds Leslie Petruk, board-certified coach and director of the Stone Center for Counseling & Leadership. “This may require hiring help and being willing to ask for support from your spouse, family or friends when you need it.” Petruk also recommends learning to say no and [only] saying yes when doing so won’t add stress to your life.
Myth 4: Working from home makes it easier to balance career and family.
Although it may sound like a dream setup to the uninitiated, working from home has its share of challenges. “Working at home or running a home business presents a number of difficulties, including isolation and lack of structure,” says Markel. “In addition, it’s easy to get distracted and fritter away the hours in any number of non-business-related activities, such as laundry or cooking.” She recommends creating a special workspace that is free of distractions and out of bounds to family during work hours. Informing friends and family about appropriate times to call or visit is also helpful, she says, as is scheduling brief times during your workday or week that are devoted to “think” time. “This provides an opportunity to analyze and create.”
Myth 5: Working women without kids have it easier than working moms.
Being childless and having a busy, demanding life are not mutually exclusive, and feeling pressured to devote more time to your career since you’re free of the demands of motherhood is a pitfall that Baker-King refers to as childless guilt. “We find ourselves feeling like we have to work harder, do more, climb the ladder, break glass ceilings, balance the checkbook—and the list just goes on until one day we realize that there has to be more to life,” she asserts. “The good news is, there is more to life—much more.” For Baker-King, the answer lies in scheduling time for yourself. “Purposefully find the me in time,” she says. “Make a list of three small things you would like, not have, to do in the next 90 days, and map out how to accomplish these goals.” For Petruk, the solution lies in setting boundaries. “Whether you are with or without children, it’s about you having clarity on what you are and are not willing to do and being transparent with your employer in regards to what your limits are. If you’re expected to be accessible by email after you leave work for the day, and that’s something you aren’t willing to do, let them know. And if it means you need to find another job that is better suited to you, that’s OK.”