Here’s the truth: At any given time, true work-life balance is impossible. In the current system of how we work, how we structure child care, how we mythologize the role and duty of mother, no woman can “do it all.” The demands of one will always overshadow the demands of the other.
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Interestingly, the pressures of “doing it all” appears to impact women more intensely than men. Recent research on how women and men view the future as it relates to their goals reveals that men have narrower life goals and give themselves a longer time to achieve them242 In other words, women feel the challenges of work-life imbalance more strongly because we want more out of life and we want more out of it today.
Changes to the workplace and our cultural attitudes toward prioritizing work aren’t going to happen anytime soon. So it comes down to you. You have to decide what you can live with. But, if you can make peace with your choices and recognize that while today the scales are tipped to one side, on another day they’ll tip to the other, and over time you will accomplish a certain equilibrium
Like so many of us, Angela struggles with the day-to-day imbalance. As a result, an ongoing sense of dissatisfaction and failure sets in. High-achieving women like Angela often quit their jobs because if something has to give, it’s not going to be their children.
But the workplace needs Angela (and women like her) and Angela (and women like her) need the workplace. So what’s a smart, modern woman to do? She can see that today’s problems are not a lifetime of problems. They are temporary. She can recognize that her daughters (and sons) will more than likely thrive, even if their mother is not there every day. And by understanding that it is not her children who are suffering, but rather she who is suffering the loss of them, she will be able to make choices and decisions that take the long view on her career and life.
Does it make sense for Angela to leave the workplace right now when her company is in high-growth mode? The answer is no. She is likely to never have this professional chance again. She’ll have others, but not this one. That said, Angela is missing precious moments with her children. How can she solve this?
The immediate solution is to create boundaries when it comes to work. She can insist on taking one afternoon a week off. The company will not fold if she is not there for five hours each week. Or, she can decide to commit to working 24/7 for a set period of time (two years, for example) and then make it clear she will no longer be in the role of COO. Two years is more than enough time to help the company find a replacement.
It’s time for Angela, and millions of women like her, to realize daily work-life balance is a myth, but that over a lifetime work-life integration is possible. The short-term intensity of her career is not likely to hurt the long-term success of her family. What will hurt it is the anger, resentment, selfdoubt, and frustration that results from believing she should be doing it differently.
The most important thing, the thing that soothes the fear and anxiety and stress inherent in temporary work-life imbalance, is making a conscious choice about how you spend each day. Whether that means deciding to be all-in, all-of-the-time or deciding to pause for a period of time, owning your decisions is the best way to live a life free from regrets.
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