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Discussing Work-Life Balance

By The Policy Circle Team

I was just on a Women Empowerment Panel at the 2019 BridgeUSA Leaders Summit. A young woman in the audience asked a question on Work/Life Balance.  My answer was too quick, and immediately afterwards I had one of these “I should have said….” moments. So I decided to share in this post of what I should have said on work/life balance as it relates to individual circumstances and policy.  I would love your perspective.

What does Work/Life Balance Mean to You?

My knee-jerk response was first to interpret the question as “how do I consider work/life balance as I plan my career”. My inner “25 year old” wanting women to reach the highest level of the pay scale and leadership promptly paraphrased Sheryl Sandberg: lean in, don’t take yourself out of the table before you get there.  Consider careers where you will be able to support yourself and your dependents, rely on others, choose a partner who will support you.

Lesson learned: seek first to understand what work/life balance means for the audience.  Is it choosing a career path, is it balancing family and work, is it public policy to encourage women to stay in the workforce, or policy to reward build strong families?  Our answers as panelists should have started with asking: What does work-life balance mean to you?

A juggling act

I should have shared that being on this BridgeUSA panel meant missing my son’s running meet, missing a parent gathering with my husband, missing volunteering with my daughter, missing bringing a meal to a friend whose mother was hospitalized. It meant missing joining our neighborhood to mourn the passing of a neighborhood dad who leaves behind his wife and 3 kids.

When you start using the pronoun “We” to describe your activities, it’s no longer about work/life balance, it’s about life’s juggle of trade-offs that only starts with the birth of a baby. The stitches you sew in the community where you live will drive your ability to stay afloat and assume your responsibilities for the well being of those put in your care.

Work/life balance means something different to everyone, and the definition changes with age, income and life events with yourself, your spouse, your parents, your kids, your neighbors, your co-workers and your business.  

Work/life balance is not limited to raising babies, and it is not a balancing act, rather it is being on a journey while doing a juggling act. Sometimes you run, sometimes you walk, sometimes you fall, all while the balls are in the air but sometimes they fall too.  Here are my 4 big balls I keep juggling:

  1. Earning – working to provide for the well being of yourself and your dependents now and in the future, through good and terrible;
  2. Caring – for dependents which may be children, parents or vulnerable siblings;
  3. Stitching – being an informed and responsibly engaged citizen of your community because the piece of the fabric you stitch will be your net to catch you when you fall; and
  4. Steering – maintaining your own emotional and physical fitness so you can keep all the balls in the air, and you can keep moving forward to achieve your full potential.

As our lives go on, the sizes and weights of each ball will change for everyone.  Yet it is this very juggling act and the stitches we sew in our communities that makes us human, connects us, and ensures the future of a healthy society.