Imbalance is the Balance
We’ve all read the Cosmo articles and listened to the latest self-help guru tell us we can “have it all.” A career, a family, a killer social life—all accessible in a few easy steps, following a few simple rules, employing these four habits or this tried-and-true routine. Work-life balance is as easy as one, two, three, right?
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
You’ve been lied to for your entire life. I’ve spent years believing if I could be more organized or get into a routine or plan my day better or something, my life would become instantly easier. I’ve read book after book, article after article, listened to every quasi-celebrity talk about how to balance it all (and subsequently wondering why I just can’t seem to do it).
The reality is, you can’t have it all—because you can’t do it all. As your fellow overachiever, I know that’s hard to accept. You cannot work, work out, clean, help your kids with their homework, do your own homework, grocery shop, complete a 10-step Korean beauty routine, cook a (healthy) Pinterest-worthy dinner, all before hitting the latest bar with your super-stylish crew. You’ve only got 24 hours in the day.
Feminism and the women’s empowerment movement has brought us a long way. It’s given us incredible leaders, recognized our achievements and opened up more opportunities than ever. In the midst of this “I am woman, hear me roar” time, we have simultaneously created an exhausting, unachievable idea that we can do everything. Career, kids, pets, caring partner, beautiful home, amazing vacations—the whole Instagram-styled-life.
What this vision doesn’t show is the sheer amount of time, effort and energy it takes to maintain it all. It conveniently leaves out the long commutes, the fussy baby, the hard work a committed relationship takes. It doesn’t include the exhaustion after a day at the office, soccer practice, walking the dog, doing laundry and then scrambling to cook dinner after braving the grocery store. It ignores the fact that trying to “have it all” might instead make you feel hollow, tired and dejected.
Beneath the carefully curated social feed, most women are feeling the pressure to “have it all” and not break a sweat. But that’s hardly realistic. By all means, don’t throw everything out the window or stop dreaming about the life you want—just leave the pressure behind. There are not enough hours in a day to get it all done; not on a regular basis. Even at the end of my good days, when I’ve accomplished a lot at work and at home, there’s a part of me that’s discouraged because I didn’t work out or finish my laundry. On the bad days, when everything seems to be dumped on me and I’ve made mistakes? Forget it. The downward spiral isn’t pretty—and you can probably relate to the feeling of disappointment.
Real life is messy; stop wasting your energy pretending it’s not, because it’s better to embrace the chaos rather than attempt to contain it. I’ve spent many days feeling worthless because I can’t possibly cross off everything I need to do. After a day of work, shuffling kids to and from school, running errands and helping with homework, I shouldn’t feel bad about ordering pizza because I’m too tired to cook. I shouldn’t beat myself up for spending a Saturday at the beach instead of catching up on laundry. I shouldn’t, but I do.
We champion the idea of a work-life balance, but maybe our ideal should be less about balance and more about harmony. You can have a career and a family and a great social life—you just may not be able to have it all on the same day. Some days you’ll focus more on you and your career; other days it will be your family or friends. Thinking we can balance everything in one day only sets us up for failure (and, inevitably, a really ugly breakdown).
Be reasonable with yourself. Routines and to-do lists can help wrangle the craziness of your life, but they won’t get rid of it. Life is made of unpredictable moments. Embrace them when you can, but cut yourself a break when you can’t. Give yourself permission to screw up, to feel overwhelmed, to not check every box, and ask for help when you need it. It’s not weakness; it’s self-preservation. Instead of worrying about your to-do list, go enjoy the things you have and the goals you’ve already achieved. Chances are, you already have it all—you’re just too busy to realize it.
Heather lives in Jacksonville, FL, where she graduated with a degree in Converged Communication. She currently bartends to pay the bills, while looking for a new career in public relations. An avid sports fan, makeup hoarder, and mom of two, she survives on strong coffee and inappropriate humor. On days off you can find her dragging her kids on an adventure around town, checking out a new bar with friends, or simply wandering the aisles of Target.