Leslie Morgan Steiner Busts the Work-Life Myth

I work. I have kids. I try to have a life. After all this trying and talking, I’ve discovered a secret: There is no such thing as work-life balance.


I work. I have kids. I try to have a life. And I talk to hundreds of people in the same boat for my blog on work-life balance. After all this trying and talking, Ive discovered a secret: There is no such thing as work-life balance. Doesnt matter who you are, what your situation is, whether you have a zillion kids or zip. Not going to happen. This revelation has helped me dispel the work-balance myth and hug the gorilla, something I recommend highly—embrace the fact that neither you nor your job and/or life will ever be perfect.

Case in point: Not long ago my best friend, a devoted mom whod recently gone back to full-time work, called me, crying, on her sons 10th birthday. Shed given him a scooter for his birthday (good mom). Shed offered to walk with him to school so he could ride his scooter (really good mom). He enjoyed the scooter so much that they were both going to be late (trouble looming). He ignored her repeated entreaties to hurry up. She got a little tense. OK, a lot tense. She lost her temper, then grabbed the scooter and threw it in a dumpster conveniently located on the sidewalk outside the elementary school. Not pretty. Her son went to class crying on his birthday. And she was hopelessly late for her new job. My friend called to tell me she was the worst mom, worst worker, worst person on the planet.

My reaction? I laughed so hard I almost fell off my chair. These “worst mom, worker, person ever” stories capture the essence of our inevitable flaws as people. We all experience mortifying failures, whether theyre with our bosses, employees, or co-workers; in our marriages; with our parents, siblings, friends, neighbors, kids, pets, or random strangers.

Ive cried at work, privately in a bathroom stall and publicly in front of respected colleagues. Ive screamed “I hate you!” at the top of my lungs to my sweet, beloved husband so loudly the neighbors heard it. I once gave my baby Tylenol to mask his fever so I could leave him at day care while I gave an important presentation. So, now you know Im the worst mother, worker, person!

We all have stories like these, and sharing them helps us (and other similarly human people) feel better about ourselves. And thats so much healthier than trying to chase elusive balance. When we aim for perfection, we get into trouble, because were all alone with our unavoidable failures.

So, once my friend stopped crying, I suggested that she hug the gorilla, and stop expecting her work and life to line up perfectly. She got the scooter out of the dumpster. She told her co-workers she was running late and would be leaving early to pick up her son from school. She apologized to her son and told him that she felt like the worst mom ever. (He laughed, too, although not as hard as I had.) And after doing that, my friend felt pretty beat up, but better.

Truth is, this imperfect woman is a fantastic mom, worker, friend, person. Shes funny, lively, smart, passionate. And Id be her kid, boss, or employee in a heartbeat. I think thats a better measure of work-life success—the perspective you get from looking at yourself from a 360-degree view—than so-called balance could ever be.

Why not give it a try the next time youre beating yourself up over a trashed-the-scooter kind of day? Ask yourself: Would you want to be your own kid? Co-worker? Spouse? Boss? Best friend? When you see yourself from a big-picture perspective (outside your own head and apart from unrealistic ideals of work-life balance), its easier to feel good about yourself and how well you really are juggling your busy, busy life.
Leslie Morgan Steiner
Last Updated: March 20, 2008

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