Work-life balance: desires and obligations

This month’s blog post comes from guest contributor Helen Calvert, who is a life coach to business owners and founder of business support agency Clear Day. Helen also has a fabulous podcast, The No Bullsh*t Guide To A Happier Life, which you can check out here.

My thanks to Helen for sharing with us her perspective on work-life balance!



Work-life balance. A familiar phrase, but an odd thought. The idea that we have work and then we have life… what does that even mean? The idea that we have work on one side of the scales, life on the other side and somehow we are trying to create a 50:50 split so that the scales are balanced seems very strange to me. For most of us work is an important part of life, it is not separate to life, and we have a heck of a lot to fit in to the “life” side that is not work, and it does not function as a 50:50 split.


The idea of 50% work, 50% life is an old-fashioned way of looking at work, and I suspect if it was ever true it was only true for people who just did paid work and then relaxed. They did not have any other commitments. Which I am pretty sure is none of us!


So let’s talk about our kind of work-life balance and what we are actually trying to balance. We have our paid work, which usually takes up a good chunk of most people’s week. We might have some voluntary or community work, commitments at our children’s school, additional unpaid obligations of some description. Then there is parenting for a lot of us, which is not something that you switch on and off, it is 24/7 even though the children may not always be with us. Whether or not we have children, we may have other family members for whom we are caring, or other people we have to fit into our week in some fashion. Then we might have a romantic, intimate relationship we are trying to spend some time on, because those relationships don’t just run themselves they do need a little time spent on them. We have our friendships, which should not be hard work but we do need to spend a little time on them and indeed we like spending time on them!


Are you feeling exhausted at that list? We have not yet even got to the bit that everyone dreams about and plans, which are the things we actually enjoy. I may have already mentioned some of them, a lot of the things we mentioned above you may enjoy, which is good! Yet there are also the things we enjoy just for ourselves, and by ourselves. Hobbies, classes, exercise, things we do in our free time, things we do with our “me” time. Ways we relax, including staring at the TV not speaking whilst watching back-to-back trash. Sleep – a very important thing we have to fit in every day! – and other forms of rest.


As you can see, there is no way that it is a set of scales with one thing on one side and one thing on the other. That is nonsense. It can feel like a juggling act, it can feel like spinning plates. What it is is deciding. It is not about balancing the scales it is about deciding, and those decisions will be different for all of us. The questions to ask yourself are:


What do you want more of?

What do you want less of?


I cannot answer those questions for you. Those decisions are different for everybody, but I would urge you to realise that it is for you to decide. The time to do the things that you actually enjoy and that bring you happiness, that time is not going to be given to you by anybody else. If you are spending every week or every month or every year waiting for little bits of time to crop up where you can sneak in a walk or a nap or a shopping trip or whatever you might want to enjoy, it is not going to be very well balanced.


If we go back to the idea of scales, in truth one side is everything you feel obligated to do, and one side is everything you want to do. I suspect the obligations side is currently heavily weighed down. Obligations vs desires is a more appropriate balance to consider.


So what is stopping you from doing more of the things you desire? Most people will say that it is time, but that is not always strictly true. What is often comes down to is a lack of willingness to be creative and ask for help. If we all pulled together in our families, households and friendship groups, in terms of childcare, compromises on who does what, and agreements on when individuals can have time to themselves, we would find it a lot easier to find time for the things we desire. The trick is not finding the time, the trick is deciding that you are worthy of having those conversations and of re-balancing your scales so that life is not just all obligations.


And then of course there is the fact that some of those obligations may not be serving you at all and the best decision would be to give them up. There is no rule book that says you have to do everything for everybody all of the time. I promise you there isn’t.


The real balance is not between work and life. The real balance is between the negatives and the positives. Everything that we do, paid work, parenting, volunteering, relationships, everything has its positives and negatives. We want to balance out the frustration, the exhaustion, the anxiety and the busyness with enjoyment, joy, contentment and peace.


So often what we do in our downtime is really just a way of numbing ourselves to the negatives. We just want something that is going to enable us to switch off for two minutes because we are so tired of the negatives that we do not want to think anymore. That is not relaxation and enjoyment. That is where we need to be balancing. If your scales are tipped way down towards busyness and exhaustion and worry and franticness, we really need to think about how we can put some more things on the enjoyment and joy and contentment side of your scales. That is the balance that matters.


It is not about how many things we have going on. It is about which of them are obligations and which of them are things we desire. If you would like some help in finding that balance, please do get in touch.

Helen Calvert, Clear Day, February 2022.

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