The Illusion Of Work-Life Balance 


Work-life balance reminds me of Cirque Du Soleil

Picture this:

A woman is walking a tightrope elevated way up high above the crowd. A thin wire is all that separates her from the ground, 50 feet below. She needs perfect balance to reach the other end of the wire and she achieves this balance by concentrating hard, and by tightening and relaxing the muscles all over her body. It’s a stressful role — especially knowing that even a minor error or loss of concentration could result in sudden death.

Trying to achieve work-life balance can be almost as stressful

While it won’t necessarily lead to sudden death, it can be pretty stressful for your health! I’ve seen countless people get strung out because they fear they don’t have the perfect work-life balance they seek.

Like a coaching client…

“So, tell me, what do you want to achieve?” I asked her at our first session.
“Well, really I just want to achieve a work-life balance,” she responded.
“Hmm, and what exactly is a work-life balance?”

Like many others, she seemed confused about work-life balance

She mumbled something about, “having more time for herself” and then confessed she didn’t really know. I told her that I thought the work-life balance struggle was a genuine cause of angst. That, in trying to achieve it, she was just setting herself up for failure and creating undue stress and anxiety. She looked stunned.

Look more closely and you’ll see the problems with the work-life balance notion

There are some interesting assumptions buried within the language of the statement,

“I want to achieve a work-life balance.”


Man balancing on rope high in mountains

The main assumptions are

  • Work and life are separate from each other.
  • That work-life balance is possible.
  • Work is something that exists apart from life.
  • Life is something that exists apart from work.
  • Such a balance is achievable — and desirable.
  • The person doesn’t currently have a balance.
  • There are only two ways to classify activities.

Let’s delve a little deeper

You might notice how unrealistic striving for balance on a daily basis is:

1. That work and life are separate from each other

  • Do you not experience ‘life’ while you’re at ‘work’?
  • Do you ever ‘work’ outside where or what you officially designate ‘work’ to be? For example, if I’m weeding the garden, sweeping the yard, washing dishes or ironing clothes, that’s all ‘work’ to me. Those things are also part of ‘life’ — rather than separate from it.

2. That work-life balance is possible

Let’s see if it is!

Make a note of all the things you do in a day and the amount of time you spend doing them.


  • Sleep – 8 hours (as per health recommendations)
  • Preparing meals and eating – 1.5 hours
  • Cleaning teeth – 2 mins x 2
  • Exercising – 1 hour
  • Travelling – 30 mins
  • Talking, texting, social media  – 1 hour
  • Washing/showering/ablutions – 30 mins
  • Watching TV – 1 hour
  • Physically at ‘work’ – 8 hours
  • Spending time with partner and family – 2 hours
  • Household chores – 1 hour (see – why do we call them chores if they’re not part of work ????)

Now categorise each into work or life

The example list adds up to 24 hours and 34 minutes. And most of us fit many more activities into our day. Undoubtedly, we would each classify those activities differently. For some people exercising is work, while for others it is life. There could also be disagreement about where travelling fits in to this illusional work-life balance.

Can you multitask and still achieve a work-life balance?

Even if you can overlap some items on the list and multi-task, there are some activities it wouldn’t be cool or even prudent to combine; cleaning teeth and eating, for example. That could get a bit messy! Sleeping while at work wouldn’t be a good look either! And texting while travelling could be somewhat counter-productive — as well as illegal — unless, of course you’re a passenger!

When you can combine two tasks — such as watching TV and eating — how do you categorise each activity?

What about the time you are asleep? Presumably sleeping is not work, so must be life!

“But it wouldn’t be much of a life if you slept all the time!”

When you’ve classified each of the activities into work or life, do the number of hours spent in each balance? Do they even add up to 24??!

3. That work is something that exists apart from life

Perhaps one of the issues we need to confront is how we think about work. For example, at the moment I’m writing this article. Is it work? Well, some people would probably say yes. But, I’d much rather be writing than pulling out weeds, sweeping the yard or ironing. It doesn’t feel like a chore because I’m enjoying what I’m doing.

So maybe I should include it in the life category?

4. That life is something that exists apart from work

If you feel you live only when you’re not at work, then it’s surely time to change your work. If you work 40 hours a week and consider that time not to be part of life, how does this thinking affect your general health and well-being?

5. That such a balance is achievable — and desirable

See numbers 3 and 4 above!

6. The person doesn’t currently have a balance

They’re probably entirely stressed-out from trying to attain it!

7. There are only two ways to classify activities

This is a big problem! It should probably be number one! Trying to fit every aspect of existence into only two categories is fraught with danger, as evidenced by number 2, above.

We have several facets that make up our lives; the various roles we play such as parent, child, sibling etc, our work role and, perhaps a variety of community roles. Apart from these roles, we, no doubt have spiritual, sexual, social and physical dimensions to our lives. Do we group these into work or life?

OK. Here are some ‘stupid questions’ for you to ponder:

Group of meerkats with questions marks

If you fully enjoy your work as much as anything else you do, does that mean you should stop work and do something else — related to life — that perhaps you don’t enjoy, so that you can achieve that elusive balance?

  • If you don’t enjoy your work, why on earth are you doing it?
  • What is the ‘life’ part of the work-life balance made up of for you?
  • What does the ‘work’ part of the work-life balance consist of for you?
  • Is it realistically possible, sustainable and desirable to accomplish this work-life balance?

Work-Life balance doesn’t have to feel like a tightrope walk

Here are some potentially different ways to think about work and life

Even thinking differently about work-life can make a huge difference to how you experience it.

1. Stop trying to separate work and life!

You’ve already seen how much extra stress that adds!

2. Accept that you will be out of balance most days — and that it’s perfectly OK. 

NO! – It’s more than O.K. – it’s completely natural to be out of balance in how you run your life. Imagine how regimented and stressed you’ll become trying to maintain this mythical balance.

3. Make sure you love all aspects of your life

If you must divide activities, try ways that make more sense! Who said everything had to fit into work or life anyway!?! I think that most of us are searching for a sense of flow — so we’re happy, creative and productive. Then any previously perceived boundaries dissolve. When you’re living as an authentic expression of yourself, in alignment with your purpose, mission and values, almost everything you do is an expression of who you are.

4. Focus on being present

Find ways to enjoy every moment you have, and be grateful for life itself.

5. Make the time for self-care

Take care of your own needs first, and give your state of being the highest priority. Check in with yourself regularly, throughout the day, and take some time out from work or life to reconnect with your soul.

6. Use common sense

Have consideration for the important others who participate in your life’s journey.

7. Take a longer-term approach to work-life balance

Very old tree representing long term approach

Stop worrying about walking the tightrope of perfect work-life balance on a daily or weekly basis. Accept that you’ll be out of balance in some way for most of the time in the short-term. (For example, you might work 60 hours for three weeks on the trot to finish a project at work, but then take a mini break [life?] for five days).

8. Be aware of the language you use to describe your experiences or desires

Language has huge power over how you feel — choose your words wisely.

Ok. Now Spread The Word!

The sooner the majority of us stop this work-life balance nonsense, the sooner we’ll be able to get off the tightrope, let go the stress, chill out and enjoy the many and diverse aspects that make up our lives.

Note: If you’re struggling with living the life you’d prefer, or feel as if you’re sabotaging yourself, I can help with some SHIFT Coaching.

Tags: Authenticity, Health and wellbeing, Language, Self-awareness, Thinking and mindset


  1. Mohd Rizal Hassan

    Beautifully written! ❤️

    I often tell people how work is a COMPONENT of Life and you cannot believe the looks people give me because of that! ????????

    I’m going to share this on my FB with a big I TOLD YOU SO sign ????

    • siteadmin

      Good for you Mohd! I like your thinking ????


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