Unbalanced Home Life

  • May 02, 2022

Dear Advy,

Lately, I have found myself really struggling to keep everything in balance. Perhaps I should say that I am having a hard time keeping my home life in balance as I have been devoting so much time to work and clients. While my work life is thriving, I am worried about the lack of time I am spending with my kids and my partner. This is a competitive profession, and I do not want to fall behind, but I also don't want to succeed at the expense of my family. Do you have any suggestions for making time for family while still keeping up at work? 

Unbalanced Home Life

Dear Unbalanced Home Life,

The question you raise, and the challenge behind it, is one we all face, so, first of all, know that you are by no means alone in this. It is a universal challenge.

It's a Journey, Not a Destination

One approach we have found particularly helpful is that recommended by Jack Canfield. It involves thinking of "balancing" as a verb rather than "balance" as a noun. Think of "balancing" as an ongoing process rather than "balance" as a thing we try to "keep." You can work at balancing, but don't beat yourself up for not achieving something called balance.

Canfield offers the metaphor of an airplane's autopilot system. The autopilot can successfully guide a plane from New York to Los Angeles by a series of corrections when the plane drifts off course. The plane is actually "off course" to some degree almost the entire journey, but the autopilot system repeatedly corrects so that the plane never gets too far off course.

In the operation of autopilot systems, there is no "keeping" the plane on course; rather, there is an ongoing process of "correcting course." The parallel for our lives is that we can think of "balancing" by a series of corrections rather than striving to "keep" some kind of static "balance."

In fact, striving to "keep the balance" can be viewed as a form of perfectionism (thinking that "one perfect balance" can exist), and perfectionism is usually ineffective. Do you want to strive for perfection, which may be unattainable, or can you be OK with working with a functioning system that produces effective results?

"To everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose…."

For a specific example of how this could work, imagine a lawyer with an upcoming trial. In the weeks preceding the trial, the lawyer may choose to emphasize physical exercise to get into prime condition for the trial. The emphasis then shifts to the trial itself while it is ongoing. In the weeks following the trial, the lawyer may choose to emphasize time with family as a correction in that area of life. In this example, time allocation is different in three different periods of time, which is not a problem but rather the effective functioning of the system. There is no attempt to "find one perfect balance" as a static thing but rather a series of responses to different seasons of life as a dynamic process.
Since your quest to find "one perfect static balance" has not been working, perhaps you could experiment with viewing "balancing" as an ongoing process of observation and different "course corrections" over time.

Under this "balancing by correcting" system, when you notice which aspect of life needs correcting now, this is not a "problem"; it is simply the indication of which specific correction to make now. You accept that some aspects of life might be short-changed at any time, but by correcting, you ensure that no aspect of life gets short-changed for too long.

Allow Yourself a Course Correction

In your case, perhaps increasing family time is a correction to make over the next few weeks, and you could be comfortable doing this, knowing that you could later correct to a greater emphasis on work time whenever that became appropriate. 

Wishing you every success,