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Creating an Authentic Life in and Out of Work

Sometimes I feel sorry for the term “work/life balance.” Here’s why …

It used to be the “it” topic. Everyone wanted to talk about it. It was popular. It was the be-all, end-all. But then people got over it, got sick of it, got tired of it because they realized maybe it was impossible. Or maybe they felt it made them look weak for asking about it. 

So suddenly it was hush-hush. We would want to talk about “work/life balance,” but we knew we couldn’t say that word, so we would try to find other clever ways to say it. “Balance.” “Work/life integration.” Or we would just start pretending we didn’t care anymore, even though we really, really did. So we stopped saying anything at all. Once the topic we couldn’t stop talking about, now we whisper it only among friends or hedge it when we do bring it up by saying something like “for lack of a better word.” 

But that didn’t make our desire for it go away. We desperately want to feel the peace, the contentment, and the intention that the phrase connotated. Oh, what we would give to know how to live a life -- both at home and at work -- that felt in balance, that felt authentic, that felt less manic and frenzied. A life that allowed us to thrive in our careers and in every other part of our lives.

I wish I could tell you that I had come up with the perfect phrase. I’m sorry to disappoint you; I haven’t (though I continue to try.) But I sure know the feeling you are seeking, because I seek it, too. I want it, too. I believe most of us do -- at least the women I talk to, who are at their wit’s end, who don’t know how to express what they want, but they want to feel on purpose and on track so very much.

I’m not a huge fan of the “work/life balance” phrase either. Why? Because it sets up this false dichotomy between our “work” and the rest of our “life.” That’s ridiculous. I’m not one person at work and one person the rest of the time. I’m “me” all of the time. So are you.

So how do I live an authentic, true, purposeful life all of the time … no matter if I’m at work, at home, at a kid’s event, at the gym, at Target, or wherever I am?

It starts with authenticity. I have to know what I want. I must be clear on what matters to me and what I’m willing to do to have what matters. I also need to know that I won’t be perfect, and I have to let go of perfectionism or it’s all hopeless.

So in order to have “work/life balance” -- or at least the feeling of it -- I need to know my values, my priorities, and what’s essential to me. I need to be willing to be authentic and real and vulnerable about what matters to me and stop chasing what I think I am “supposed” to do, want, or have.

It’s not about “work/life balance” at all. It’s about having what matters. If you can achieve that, I’ll bet you feel like you have some semblance of balance. 

In the meantime, try these tips:
  1. Stop striving for “work/life balance.” You’ll just frustrate yourself. It’s not about achieving some false sense of balance. Life isn’t that simple. I don’t know about you, but I just want to feel like I’m doing right by those I love and also doing right for myself while I build my career and the meaningful work I want to do. Some days that means my attention and time will be focused a bit more in one direction; other days, I’ll give weight that attend to other things. The “balance” -- if there ever was any -- comes by observing over time, not in a daily snapshot. 
  2. Be authentic. Know what matters to you and don’t be afraid to build your schedule and life around those things, both personally and professionally.. Don’t pretend you are someone you aren’t in any area of your life, despite what social media, your family/friends, or your own expectations of yourself tell you that you “should” do.
  3. When you are living with authenticity, it’s easier to say “yes” to the things that are a fit for you and “no” to the things that aren’t. That covers a lot -- your time commitments, your physical possessions, your relationships, how people treat you -- you get to decide what you allow into your life, and living with authenticity allows you to make much better choices for yourself.

When you are being authentic and true to yourself and what matters to you, the feeling of “work/life balance” comes. It doesn’t come by measuring minutes in a day spent on different priorities; it comes by trusting yourself to put your focus, energy, and intention into the commitments, things, and people that matter most to you and being willing to say “no” to the rest -- and releasing your fear of the judgment of others. Whether or not they are actually judging you, it doesn’t matter. You must make the choices that feel authentic and true to you based on what you want in your life and career.

Do those things I mentioned above -- and you won’t need to worry as much about “work/life balance.” You achieve that fabulous, elusive feeling by simply being authentically and beautifully “you” while building a life and career focused on having what matters, not having it all. 

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7 Steps to Having What Matters: Live with more authenticity,  more confidence, and more impact at home and at work.