Work-life balance is not your goal: Focus on four simple shifts

I’ve been obsessed with the intersection of career and family conflict since 1993 when I decided to go to graduate school after a short stint working in advertising. I’ve also researched the topic for the Families and Work Institute and the National Center for Children and Families. Sadly, the landscape hasn’t changed much.

no work-life balance
(c) / Foundry

No work-life balance? It’s not your fault

I began graduate school hoping to start up employer-supported childcare centers. Within the first semester, I learned it would be impossible to provide care that is both high quality and affordable without systemic shifts in government policy and employer mindset.

Hoping to find answers, I decided to switch gears and go into research instead. Later, I started coaching individual clients. And, recently I’ve been writing more.

Meanwhile, the major work-family conflict obstacles still exist:

  1. The burden of nurturing and educating the future workforce and tomorrow’s citizens rests primarily on individuals (parents) with little support from employers and the government.
  2. We’ve known for some time that our population is aging. Yet, few improvements have been made in the area of eldercare and long-term care.
  3. Women tend to do more caregiving than men.
  4. Many employers are more focused on short-term profits and shareholder value than making long-term investments in employee health and well-being.
  5. Government should provide support to working families, but politicians can’t agree on how and how much.

Asking individuals to tackle major societal problems is unreasonable.

Still, as individuals, we can’t do nothing. So, how do we make our lives better?

Four shifts to try

Elsewhere I’ve written why I wish everyone would erase or forget “work-life balance.” The concept is problematic and not helpful.

Instead, what I found is more helpful is to make four key shifts in your daily thoughts and actions:

First, rather than think, “I’m not doing enough,” concentrate only on a few priorities. Then, do your best to spend most of your time and energy on those and while you’re doing them, focus on them.

Second, stop telling yourself, “I’m not good enough.” Work on building confidence by growing what is going right in your life, and the things for which you have control. That is, focus on the process rather than on outcomes.

Third, instead of saying, “I can’t burden others with my problems,” connect with people who might have similar challenges. By letting people in and sharing your vulnerabilities, you can inspire one another and help each other. It’s powerful to know you’re not alone.

Finally, don’t assume, “I’ll never be happy” or think that, “Once x happens, then I will be happy.” Instead, practice happiness daily by finding inner calm, or a sense of peace deep inside of you. It’s there even when your environment and circumstances seem chaotic.

Your turn

These are the four Cs—concentration, confidence, connection, and calm—that have helped my clients. Even more so, these have helped me in my darkest hours.

So I urge you to give it a try. Pick one by clicking any of the C-words above; you’ll be led to an index of previous newsletter articles and book notes related to those topics. I hope you find them helpful.

Then, consider which one you might focus on in the first quarter of 2022. You can do this quarter by quarter. In fact, that’s what I do in lieu of New Year’s resolutions.

Don’t forget to let me know what works (or doesn’t work) for you!

An older version of this article was first published in November 2015.