Life isn’t a pie chart. I can’t balance my work, family life, caring for mom, self-care and volunteer work neatly into equal quadrants of 20 % each. I am not convinced many can. I am even less convinced that it is a desirable goal.
When the word ‘balance’ comes up in conversations with adult daughters and sons, the reactions have become predictable: a furtive sigh; eye rolling; a polite nod or an earnest “Balance? Who are you kidding?”
When you google ‘work-life balance’, in less than 80 seconds, you will have over 1 billion results. It seems to me that achieving this balance must be pretty elusive or the subject wouldn’t garner this kind of massive attention. We would just be out there living a balanced life.
I think the problem is that the concept of balance isn’t grounded in the reality of most people’s lives. Don’t most of us need to devote more attention to some things/people at certain times and other things/people at other times?
It also seems to me that rigidly setting up separate categories of life can feed a perception that life is one of competing demands. How can we feel anything but pulled and divided all the time? Someone or something is always winning or always losing. Isn’t this a recipe for feeling guilty and inadequate?
I think pursuing life satisfaction is a healthier and happier route than the elusive goal of ‘work life’ balance. It takes all that is good about living a balanced life and weds it with what matters to you in life and what life is asking of you in any given moment.
What is life satisfaction?
Life satisfaction is about your values and purpose. It is also about improving the quality of your life given these values and purpose.
There is also no presumption that your life can or should be equally balanced given the reality of what is on your plate and what matters to you.
That is, life is fluid, dynamic, and characterized by both change and unpredictability. How can we work with that reality?
Life satisfaction scorecard
How about a “life satisfaction” scorecard? This involves reflecting on how you feel, what matters to you, and what is most important to you right now. From this reflection, you can make choices– ones that fit for the present time and circumstances of your life.
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?
- Do I want to experience fully all that “life” hands me?
- What makes a life well-lived for me?
Life satisfaction and caring for your aging parents
Turning specifically to your relationship with your aging parents, and the care you are providing, ask yourself:
- How am I feeling as a daughter or son caring for my aging parents?
- Am I experiencing satisfaction with our relationship as things change?
- What do I want to be able to say to myself about how I handled this time of transition with my parents?
As you work with the question of your life satisfaction, you may adopt more activities that address your physical and mental, emotional or spiritual well-being. Or you may change nothing.
The point is that whatever you change or don’t change will evolve from your own values and listening to yourself, and the circumstances of your life at the time.
I encourage you to play around with this idea of “life satisfaction”. How does it feel different than trying to achieve a balanced life?