In the world of work, where it first reared its head, the concept of ‘work-life balance’ is being exposed as a myth; as a theory not at all grounded in the reality of most people’s lives.
Achieving life satisfaction is more about addressing your values, purpose, and looking at ways to improve the quality of your life and well-being.
Balance is virtually impossible to achieve, and thinking about life and work as separate categories sets us up to see life as one of competing demands, of always feeling pulled and divided. As such, this view of life is a recipe for feeling inadequate and guilty, at best, and at worst, feeling like a failure at either ‘work’ or ‘life’ or both.
Also, notice how work gets its own category and literally everything else is relegated to ‘life’. As caregivers, if we concede to this understanding of life as competing demands, then in our minds, something or someone is always winning, and always losing. Which, in the grand scheme of life, is a lose-lose situation for both ourselves and the person we are caring for.
As a caregiver, you have likely heard, read, or been told by someone well-intentioned that you need to embrace this work-life balance concept. And if you have tried to do so, you are probably already aware that this is a concept not easily translated into your current life.
Instead of setting balance as a goal, or feeling guilty because you have not been able to reach this elusive balance, you may want to consider pursuing life satisfaction instead.
What is life satisfaction?
You may be wondering what it is exactly, and how to improve life satisfaction?
Achieving life satisfaction is more about addressing your values, purpose, and looking at ways to improve the quality of your life and well-being (if you determine this is needed). It may be, in fact, that your life cannot be equally balanced between work and the rest of your roles, relationships, and activities right now (and ahem, isn’t caregiving itself work, albeit unpaid?).
As a caregiver, you don’t have to buy the idea that ‘imbalance’ is the problem. Instead of asking, “Am I living a balanced life?” consider asking yourself:
- What is important to me?
- What are my values?
- What do I want to be able to say to myself about this time/period of my life, years down the road?
- What are my broader goals in life?
- Is it to live a balanced life…or is it to live a full rich life?
- Or is it to experience fully all that ‘life’ hands me?
- What makes a life well lived for me?
These may sound like grand philosophical questions, but your answers can serve as the guide to how you spend your time, divide your time, and how you feel about time spent.
Your answers to these life satisfaction questions will help determine whether you are living a satisfied life or not. And this in turn will guide whatever changes you may or may not want to make to improve your life satisfaction.
How can you judge your life satisfaction? It is simple, really: by how you feel.
You may want to break down the question of how you feel. For example:
- How does my body feel?
- Do I want it to feel better? Differently?
- How is this affecting the rest of my life?
If your body isn’t healthy, rested, energized, taken care of, you are likely feeling less productive and less satisfied in all pockets of your life, including caregiving. And if your body isn’t feeling healthy, what, if anything, are you going to do about it?
- How am I feeling as a caregiver?
- Am I experiencing satisfaction with my role?
- What do I need to do to increase my satisfaction?
If caregiving needs to be a priority right now and, to continue with the work-life balance analogy, if caregiving consumes 75 per cent of your time, ask yourself what do you need in order to be satisfied or more satisfied given this percentage?
- Do you need more skill development?
- Do you need to feel more competent?
- Do you need more concrete help?
- Who can provide this?
- Do you need an attitude adjustment?
Seriously, is there a way you are approaching your caregiving that is creating dissatisfaction? And, given your values and what matters to you, what is the best use of the other 25 per cent?
For most of us, life is fluid, dynamic, characterized by change and unpredictability (as hard as we try to control it!). So, is life really something to be balanced? Isn’t it just plain messier than that?
The famous singer-songwriter John Lennon got it years ago with one of his lyrics, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.”
While there is obviously a place for planning, and caregiving requires a good amount of it, Lennon’s quote simply recognizes that life isn’t as tidy as this and involves a great deal of unpredictability.
Also, holding out ‘work-life balance’ as the goal detracts from accepting this unpredictability and learning to roll with the ‘stuff’ of life, which includes devoting more attention to some things and people at some times, and other things and people at other times.
Life satisfaction score
Invariably, life is about choices. It doesn’t always feel that way, but we are always making choices. As we move through different stages and experiences in life, we shift and change our priorities.
We don’t really need a ‘work-life balance’ scorecard. We need more of a ‘life satisfaction’ score, which involves reflection on how you feel and what is important to you, and what is most important to you right now. From this reflection, you can make choices, or perhaps different choices – ones that fit for the time and circumstances of your life.
I encourage you to play around with this idea of ‘life satisfaction,’ and explore your caregiving (and the rest of your life) in this context. As you play around with the question of your life satisfaction, it may include adopting more activities that address your physical and mental wellbeing, but in doing so, it will come from a place of your own values and listening to yourself, and not from a model that imposes the necessity of work life balance and what that balance looks like.
See also our Elizz article on Finding Meaning in Caregiving.
Caregiver wheel of life
It can be helpful to have a template that can be used to guide reflections and the creation of an action plan if one is needed. In this regard, you may want to download the Caregiver Wheel of Life and complete the exercise. This wheel sets out the different areas of people’s lives and provides questions you can ask yourself to help assess your level of satisfaction in each of life’s areas including:
You may also want to consider sharing the ‘results’ of your completed Wheel of Life with those closest to you. It can provide a nice context for sharing what you have decided you need, if anything, to maintain or increase your life satisfaction.
As a Canadian not-for-profit organization powered by Saint Elizabeth Health Care, Elizz is able to offer family caregivers a full range of support services. Elizz is the place in Canada for all things caregiving and also provides support for the people in your care.
If you are a family caregiver and feel you are struggling with this myth of work life balance, or if you have any questions about how to improve life satisfaction and you wish to speak with someone, please call us at 1-855-Ask-Eliz (275-3549) or contact an Elizz caregiver coach.
You might also like our Elizz article on Balancing Work and Caregiving Duties.