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Work/Life Balance: Refocusing a Flawed Concept

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The discussion of 'work / life balance' is inherently challenging because it pins 'work' and 'life' against each other. We often feel as though work is hard and life should be easy, or at least easier. But in reality life is filled with work and so what we are really talking about is balancing work for monetary compensation with work that satisfies one's need for personal reward or obligation.

This is a growing and important question that highlights a fundamental misconception of the concept of 'balance'. Prompted by a tweet posted by Marci Alboher, I read an article on The Mama Bee blog, entitled 'Work/Life: Only for the Wealthy'. This is my response.

The working poor, middle class and wealthy have vastly different lives. The foundation of stress is disempowerment. It is undeniable that people with fewer options feel less powerful to make choices than the wealthy. Having said this, we have imposed an idea of economic barriers regarding reducing daily stress because we package and sell balance as a luxury - depicted as spa treatments, yoga, and meditation. However finding balance is simpler and more realistic. Work/life balance was an idea formulated to address an unhealthy relationship with work. We now have to reconsider that it is an unhealthy relationship with our use of time and energy that belies the quest for balance.

As illustrated in the work of Stephanie Coontz, author of 'The Way We Never Were' and 'Marriage, a History', women have worked and contributed to the income of the household throughout history, with the short exceptional period from the 1950s-1970s. What we now hold up as a traditional family structure was essentially an anomaly. The biggest challenge we face now is that we are fighting ourselves every step of the way as a culture, espousing that women are failing their families by needing to work.

Balance is a word often prescribed as the antidote for stress, overwhelm, and a hectic modern life. Balance is a concept that is free and not gender, age, race or socioeconomic specific. However the work / life balance conversation, as it is currently framed, is available to a minority of Americans.