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The Myth of "Work-Life Balance"

Updated: Aug 9, 2018

Why "Work-Life Balance" sets women up to fail.

The term "work-life balance" first appeared in the U.S. literature around 1986. Isn't it about time we retire it, when it comes to the American businesswoman?

"Why?" you might ask.

Do YOU know any women who can fit their lives into two, neatly-packed buckets? I don’t.

Spinning Plates

A more apt analogy for the hectic pace of women's lives might be the proverbial "plate spinner" from the old Ed Sullivan show. (I know I’m dating myself but this is SUCH a good analogy.)

If you're old enough, you'll remember the guy who had glass bowls spinning on five separate poles while spinning other plates on the table below. He kept trying to keep all of them moving without letting any one of them drop and crash to the floor. It kept him constantly in motion and watching all of the dishes (ironic that it was a guy) at all times, until he could maneuver his way down the row and get everything going at once AND retrieved without breakage. Whew.

You might argue that the binary nature of "work-life balance" applies to men as well. Perhaps it does. Yet the rules of American business were set up by men, for men, to fit into the now outdated traditional roles when women did not work outside the home. We still contend with these rules every day. Too often our choices seem limited to "think like a man, work like a dog, and act like a lady," or we opt out of big business altogether and make our OWN rules.

I suspect you as a women will "get this" immediately. There is certainly an issue fitting one's work into each day. But women have a harder time compartmentalizing our myriad responsibilities into merely two containers. So the binary implied by "work" or "life" doesn't include the other woman-buckets most of us have. And it sets us up to fail. 😠

Our buckets include (or should include at minimum ) our family, our work, our community, and ourselves. 

That latter bucket is the one most often left un(ful)filled. Inattention to ourselves has an additive effect, and sooner or later, we crash or give up, or simply say "Enough, already!" We may simply look for another job where our full selves are considered, or we may start our own business where we are in control (more or less) of when and how much we work.

Working Moms = Sheroes

Much like the "plate spinner" in the video, our buckets have buckets of their own. Working moms are the most remarkable creatures I've ever witnessed. HOW you manage all your kids, their doctor appointments, their schoolwork, their activities, their food and clothing (oh yeah, THAT), and their emotional needs is a marvel of organization and project management most of us can only hope to approach one day. Multiply those challenges by the number of kids (and aging parents), and you see where this is heading. (Even those of us with fur-kids experience some of this but nowhere to the degree of human ones.)

Not only does our society not value these activities, if you as a woman find yourself in big business, you are actually penalized for being a mom in most cases. The so-called "mommy track" is alive and well even in the 21st century. Just ask any attorney, CPA, or other professional in a large firm trying to qualify as a partner. 

I actually heard a panel of women entrepreneur/CEOs questioned by a male audience member about "how on earth they took care of their children while they attended to business?" (These were their answers: "How do YOU handle it?" "Quite well, thank you." "Ask my husband. He stays home with our children.” 👏🏻)

Is it any wonder that women are opting out of the workforce to start our own firms?

For women who are trying to juggle all of the disparate aspects of their lives, turns out multitasking really isn't the ultimate answer. (Though, according to science we come by it quite naturally.) It's about priorities, and creating a plan that permits fluid integration of those priorities that change daily, if not hourly. Integrating the multiple priorities most of us deal with is a constant struggle, and it is not possible to achieve perfection. Let me say that again, louder: it is not possible to achieve perfection! But there are myriad strategies that can be grouped to fit a woman's particular situation.

I'm tired of seeing women set up to fail. It's about time we were set up for success, don't you think?

Strategies for Success

One of the best strategies I've encountered is NOT to try to do it all alone. Join or create a Circle of Women who are battling the same challenges as you, and share your stories like crazy. I guarantee you'll find gold there. Even if the solutions don't initially change your life, the support you receive will have a dramatic impact. 

Never underestimate the power of a Circle of Women!” That's our motto at CEO School.

We'll tell you when to "Put your own oxygen mask on first!" We'll make you look at yourself and all you accomplish on a DAILY basis by reflecting back to you the marvel we see. And when you're down on yourself for not being perfect, we'll be there to tell you "You're imperfect, and you're enough!"

So grab some pals and start your circle today. Doesn't have to be anything formal. If you don't have the time or inclination to create your own circle, why not join ours? Our closed Facebook Group is called the CEO School VIP Sisterhood. We’ll be happy to meet you!

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