The Real Truth about Work Life Balance

Work and life perfectly in balance on a stone see saw


Do you ask yourself: ‘Where’s MY time in all this craziness? What about ME?’

My thoughts ran like this, and I felt trapped. Then one evening, glass of Malbec in hand, my best friend Sarah said, “perhaps you’re over-thinking it. Why don’t you just ask him?” Her comment jolted me. In that moment, I realised I must act. No one was going to do it for me. So on Monday, I did. I asked if I could work four days a week.

He asked just one question: “What will happen if you have an urgent deadline and it’s your non-working day the next day?” “I’ll work late, or work my non-working day and take the day in lieu. I don’t expect anyone else to do it”, I said.

He said he’d talk to HR. That he thought it’d be okay. Within nine days, I had my first day off. I spent it making a checked fabric box. It was 2004. I was an international tax manager in a FTSE 50 company with no flexible working policy. But I’d got the work life balance I wanted.

Work-life balance – let’s examine the phrase for a moment. I don’t like it. It implies something is either work or not-work; that we have binary choices; that there’s an ideal balance to be strived for. What matters to you, I imagine, is to be living a life that feels right and that you feel fulfilled and happy. I prefer the phrase ‘work-life blend’ but let’s face it, most people talk about work life balance.

What is the real truth about work life balance then

I’m not going to beat around the bush. It’s…

YOU need to take full responsibility for YOUR life.

To create the life you want.

No one else will do it for you. No one else even notices that you’re out of balance. Not for more than a few minutes anyway.

At this point you may be thinking, ‘But I AM taking responsibility!’

Are you? Are you really? What about when your boss says the client wants it today? When your partner looks disappointed when you say you’re going out on your own? When your kids won’t go to bed? Do you let what you want slide?

Diane thought she was taking responsibility. She wasn’t. She was making assumptions and excuses.

“Something inside of me woke up”, she says. “People in London questioned me. When I said, I’m meant to be the main carer they said why? When I said, I have to take a lower paid job, they asked, why? I ended up getting myself a global ‘Head of role’ for two days/ week. I’d leave home for London Monday evenings, be back by tea on Wednesday. It was just what I wanted.”

“The only people who get on this world are the people who get up and look around for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, they make them.”
George Bernard Shaw

If your company, doesn’t offer flexible working, you need to leave and get another job. If your boss says the client wants it today, you phone the client and agree a new deadline. If your partner doesn’t share the household chores, you need to have the ‘difficult’ conversation. If your partner acts as if the kids are your sole responsibility and you’ve tried to get them to see your point of view, perhaps you need to go to couples counselling.

You have the power. More power than you think.

‘Okay, I get your point,’ I hear you thinking. ‘What now then?’

The most important thing is to consciously tune into your thoughts as it’ll be your unnoticed thoughts that are preventing you taking full responsibility for yourself. From getting what you want.

What is it you’re secretly telling yourself?

I have to work hard, or else…? My partner can’t do it as well as me? My partner will think I’m lazy? The kids will be disappointed? I’ll have wasted my education? My friends will think I’m mad?

It’s your unnoticed thoughts that are getting in your way, and you’ll need to learn to disarm them.

My top 3 tips to create a better work life balance:

1) Journal and reflect

Get yourself an A5 notebook and carry it around in your bag. Spend 5-15 mins each day reflecting and journaling on what you’re telling yourself inside your head. Ask yourself if your thoughts are actually true. Could it be you’ve internalised someone else’s beliefs? Could it be they’re false?

2) Promise yourself

I was telling myself I had to do everything perfectly. I realised this was ridiculous. What is perfect anyway? Who says? I promised myself I wouldn’t do it any longer. I promised myself an ‘80% good enough job’ was fine. So I practised consciously doing everything to 80% of my internal standards. Guess what? No one noticed. This freed up time for me.

My big promise to myself was to leave tax and start my own coaching business. To get there, I made small promises to myself such as, leaving the office at 5.30pm each day unless someone was going to die! What promise will you make to yourself?

3) Develop a ‘go-to’ phrase to guide you

Mine is: It’s my life.

Diane reminds herself what’s important. She says: “If I’m giving up time with my kids, then it’s got to be amazing. Otherwise, I won’t do it.”

There are many more tips I could share but these are my top three. I’ll save the others for another blog!

Do you want more tips and inspiration?

If yes, read my next blog – my interview with Beth Kempton, founder of ‘Do What You Love’. She tells us about her low point and how she found more fulfilment.

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