Huffpost Women

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Lori Stevic-Rust, Ph.D. ABPP Headshot

Lean In to Your Life: Create Balance

Posted: Updated:

Cheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, just wrote a book entitled, Lean In. The concepts in the book have sparked some controversy and have fueled the ongoing conversation about work-life balance. Essentially, the book focuses on the author's observations and experiences of women holding themselves back from reaching their potential in leadership roles.

Sandberg focuses on the idea that women tend to pass on opportunities for advancement as they anticipate how to juggle a personal and professional life as opposed to men, who believe they will be supported in figuring it out. She maintains that women need to lean in, hold their foot fully on the accelerator and commit to their fullest potential, keep their hands raised and accept the seat at the table, not offer to sit in the sidelines.

These words of empowerment for woman have not been without controversy. Some argue that she is simply "blaming woman for not being assertive or motivated enough" to take on leadership roles. Other critics came out to argue that when a woman fully engages in work and a career that she will sacrifice her personal life.

In fact, the former CFO of Lehman Brothers, Erin Callan, was one of those critics. In an interview, she admitted that she spent the better part of her twenties and thirties leaning in. She reported that her success and her position ran her life, she sacrificed having children, lost friends and saw her marriage end in divorce. She was not able to achieve this thing called work life balance.
If you search the phrase work life balance, 6,940,000 results will appear. In that search, you will find clinical research findings, definitions, blog posts, advertisements for products and even a work life balance calculator to organize and define your time.

Typically, the definition of work refers to a career, job and ambitions, paid activities and success, while life or lifestyle refers to family, leisure, pleasure and health. Many suggest that to achieve work life balance, all we need to do is to equally divide our time between activities of work and those of our life. Simple. Eight hours of work, eight hours of leisure and eight hours of sleep. If achieving work life balance is as simple as managing our time, staying organized, making commitments to ourselves, our families and our business, then why are so many unable to achieve it?

I argue that the concept is flawed. To maintain that work is work and our life is our life is not reality. Our life is filled with personal, pleasurable, meaningful activities, intellectual challenges, emotional connections, opportunities to achieve, tasks where we earn money, tasks where we spend money, places where we feel rewarded and valued and places where we laugh, relax and nurture. Perhaps the secret to achieving balance comes from our ability to integrate and weave different parts of our life together and then remain flexible? There may be times in our life that in order to achieve a harmonious state, we need to spend proportionately more hours with our family or more hours completing a project at work. The balance seems to come from the overall integration.

What if we accept the concept that to achieve life balance, we must fully "Lean In" to our lives? Assert not only our opinions in the board room, but in our homes as well? Acknowledge that the time we invest in doing our emails is equally as important as the time we spend exercising or vacationing with our families? Perhaps we should stop making apologies or excuses for leaving work to make a parent teacher conference or a dinner date with our spouse.

And to those in leadership roles, what if we examined our own biases about the work force we lead? Do we honor balance? Do we recognize the research that demonstrates that a work environment that supports balance and creates a culture free of judgment for men who ask for paternity leave or for those who use flexible schedules, is a productive one? Do we have these policies in place but then subtly send messages about commitment and long hours being what is most valued.

I propose that we consider throwing out the concept of work life balance and simply strive for balance. But balance cannot be achieved if we only lean into our achievements. We need to also lean in to our relationships, our choices and our health. Seek balance and lean in to your life.