Throughout my career, work-life balance is a concept I’ve struggled to understand and achieve. In my search for this balance over the years, I’ve come across many empowering and thought-provoking books, people, and articles. But feeling like I’ve achieved work-life balance came down to three professionals that not only changed my perspective on the subject but helped me understand what this balance means for me.

This is not the work-life balance you’re looking for

One of the most impactful people I found was Sheryl Sandberg. After giving so much to both my career and personal life, I felt that I was at a breaking point. I came across Sheryl’s book, Lean In, which transformed my perspective on what work-life balance is. Her words empowered me through the idea that I did not have to do it all to have it all. Sheryl states in her book:

“So there’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s work, and there’s life, and there’s no balance.”

I was shocked to hear this but also relieved at the same time. This helped me understand that giving your all to one area of life is what creates the imbalance in the first place! Sheryl also says:

“Long-term success at work often depends on not trying to meet every demand placed on us. The best way to make room for both life and career is to make choices deliberately — to set limits and stick to them.”

At first I thought she was only talking about setting limits at work, but then I realized that this statement goes both ways. I had to learn to make deliberate choices not just at work but in my personal life.

Life: A big intersection

For me, one of the worst feelings is not doing what I say I’m going to do. However, I had another problem: I realized I was kind of a yes-person. I began to be more honest with what I could commit to and more deliberate in my prioritizing both at work and in my personal life. I had to come to terms with the idea that it is okay to say “no” or “not right now”. This was very liberating for me and helped me begin to re-balance.

With my new outlook on work-life balance, another concept that really spoke to me was Stewart Friedman’s four domains of life philosophy. Stewart Friedman says:

“‘Work/life balance’ is a misguided metaphor for grasping the relationship between work and the rest of life; the image of the scale forces you to think in terms of trade-offs instead of the possibilities for harmony. And the idea that ‘work’ competes with ‘life’ ignores the more nuanced reality of our humanity. It ignores that ‘life’ is actually the intersection and interaction of the four domains of work, home, community, and the private self.”

Working to make these intersections merge smoothly is tricky, but when they do, I feel more balanced. I doubt that I will ever have perfectly flowing intersections, and I am confident that there will be traffic jams and collisions from time to time. Still, this has been a good visual for me and has helped me to refocus and adjust. I no longer try to live a double life but rather work to manage these intersections and embrace them.

Work-life nirvana?

After I understood that there was no perfect balance and that it was not a give and take, I felt much more confident. Next, I stumbled across Avinash Kaushik’s career manifesto, which spoke to me and became the final piece of my puzzle.

Avinash’s philosophy is that to have balance you need to find a way to overlap three things:

  1. What you are passionate about,
  2. What you do,
  3. And what your company values.

He believes that the more overlapped these areas are, the more balanced you will feel. Even a small overlap offers a happy compromise, but a total overlap, if it can be achieved, would be nirvana!

Avinash’s philosophy was the missing puzzle piece for me. Because a total overlap is close to impossible for most people, including me, I’ve focused on that happy compromise and found peace in the overlap that I can accomplish rather than chasing total nirvana.

What I realized is that I was passionate about many things, like helping people, building relationships, being challenged, learning, and contributing to a community. Fortunately for me, these passions are things Boostability values and tie right into what I do. These overlaps certainly do not create a total nirvana for me. But they create that compromise, and finding this compromise helped me to find the balance I sought.

My balance

I now know that the view of work-life balance that I started my career with was actually unbalanced. To have a balanced life, I did not need to find some magic formula or take from one area to give to the other. I just needed to stop thinking of work and life as two separate things that are always at odds with each other. Instead, I realize that life is one flowing intersection and that I am the traffic cop.