06/26/2014 01:57 pm ET Updated Aug 26, 2014

Why Work-Life Balance Is a Flawed Concept (And What to Do Instead)


Work-life balance is a flawed concept. I don't know a single successful person who feels like they have mastered the equation. Yet the myth of the perfectly balanced life haunts us. We know what it looks like: reasonable work hours, time for exercise and family, no late night project deadline scrambles, no checking email at 3 a.m., no propping yourself up with caffeine, no ruminating about work when you're supposed to be "relaxing."

We know exactly what perfect work-life balance is supposed to look like; we just don't know anyone who actually does it.

The reality is: If you want a meaningful career and a meaningful personal life, they're going to bleed into each other. Constantly.

The concept of work-life balance sets you up for failure because it suggests that your work is on one side of the equation and your life is on the other. They're like two opposing forces that must be carefully weighed against each other at all times. In this scenario, balance is always precarious, because you're trying to parcel yourself out in the right proportions.

And we wonder why we're going nuts.

You don't have a work life and a personal life, you just have one life, yours. There is no magic math formula for creating a perfect life.

The key to making your one and only life richer isn't about maintaining proper balance; it's about creating congruence. It's about living a life doing work that connects with the essence of who you really are. Each of us have a contribution to make. When your work is in alignment with your skills and talents, it doesn't take away from your life... it adds to it.

I've had times in my life when I was working an 80-hour week and loving it. My work was my life, and it was great. My team was like a family, and it was fun, because we were doing work that fueled my soul.

Looking at your life through the lens of balance puts you at the wrong starting point because it prompts you to prioritize based on the wants and needs of others. You balance the needs of your family against the needs of your boss against the needs of your aging parents, etc.

While these needs may be very real, trying to "balance" all of your to-dos is a recipe for burnout and ultimately resentment.

Congruence is a better lens. Thinking in terms of congruence provides a more holistic reframe because to create true congruence, you have to start with self-examination. Instead of trying to balance the needs of others, you have to think about who you really are and what you really want.

In my case, being a mother is part of who I am. When I make my family a priority, I'm not doing it to meet their needs, per se. I'm doing it because proactive parenting is my own internally driven priority.

The same goes for work. If professional success is part of who you are, it's going to take effort to live that value.

It might seem like semantics, but this mental reframe -- congruence versus balance -- provides a more strategic lens that will help you make better decisions from one moment to the next.

You don't get a work life and a home life. You get one life. Don't waste it trying to achieve balance.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership consultant. Companies like Apple, Kimberly-Clark and Pfizer hire her to help them create passionate, purpose-driven sales forces.

She is the author of several books including Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud, a John Wiley & Sons publication. She has appeared on The Today Show, and has been featured in Forbes, Fortune and The Wall Street Journal. She provides executive coaching sessions, strategy workshops, and keynote speeches.

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