The Secret to a Happy Life: Perfect Balance or Imperfect Boundaries?

By Stephanie Sullivan

Part 1: “Balance”, the elusive goal

I am really not a fan of the term “work/life balance”. Yes, I use the term, given that (unfortunately) it has become the common language or phrase used to label a significant challenge in our culture. My concern is around some of the connotations it implies, particularly the word “balance”. Balance implies perfection, and getting it “just right” (like stacking a pile of round stones, or filling both sides of a balance scale) to achieve perfect balance. And then, if something changes or moves, or someone nudges a stone, the whole thing may come crashing down. It also sets up the expectation that we should somehow be able to find a way to “do it all”, and that there is this perfect state of balance that we are aiming to reach, but eludes us. It could even be a myth.

If you are like me and the vast majority of people on the planet, transparency is valued and appreciated, so here it goes….

It puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on people to get it “just right”, and often left wondering if other people have figured it out while they can’t seem to. Then in turn, results in feelings of guilt if/when you can’t figure it out, or you have to sacrifice one priority in life to meet another priority or demand.

The reality is, it is not a perfect balance. It’s an ebb and flow. It’s a sequence of continuous choices, making important decisions based on personal and professional priorities, values, and what you will / won’t do (i.e., boundaries).

It puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on people to get it “just right”, and often left wondering if other people have figured it out while they can’t seem to.

I believe we should shift our focus from trying to obtaining this perfect work/life balance (or even calling it that), and rather, learn to become experts at managing our personal energy and boundaries. That may not be easy. It just requires some thought, skills and practice, but it is attainable and allows room for flexibility, as well as recognition and acceptance that we cannot possibly do everything for everyone. What a relief of pressure that is! And, it is also empowering! It is our life, designed and lived by our values, priorities and decisions.

As P!NK says in her song “A Million Dreams” (songwriters Benj Pasek & Justin Paul):

“We can live in a world that we design…”.

AND, it does not have to be a perfectly balanced world or life. In reality, there is no such thing.

Part 2: “Boundaries”, the imperfect and invisible protector

It is SO IMPORTANT to protect your time and energy. Both are important; however, without energy, time is wasted; it passes us by.

When people think of protecting their energy, often a few self-care related enablers typically come to mind first, such as:

  • Getting a good night’s sleep (quantity & quality)
  • Nutrition (staying hydrated, eating healthy)
  • Exercising / movement
  • Fun & socialising / joy

While these are all important hygiene factors, there are some other key ones which may not come to mind straight away, such as:

  • Managing stress (which is a thief of your energy, literally stealing glucose, your energy supply), AND
  • Establishing boundaries (both at work, home and personal relationships)

These are both important for protecting our energy and wellbeing, with boundaries being essential to managing our stress and energy.

Could boundaries be one of the most important and trickiest things for us to navigate in our everyday lives?

Boundaries are applicable in nearly every relationship we foster and maintain, whether it be in key relationships in our profession (boss, client, peers, supporting team members, employees), personal life (as partners, parents, grandparents, carers, friends, siblings, etc.), or even with objects (money), and intangibles (time, values & ethics). No wonder boundaries are so important, the first reason being the diverse areas of our lives they impact.

The second reason they are so important is the key role they play in protecting our personal energy and wellbeing. Here is how I would like to suggest for you to think of boundaries. Picture yourself standing tall, with an energy source surrounding you. Maybe you picture it as a coloured bubble around you; mine is blue, but yours can be whatever colour you imagine. Now imagine that your arm is able to extend out to the very edge of that energy bubble, and you move your arm in a circle to draw a protective force field around it. That protective force field is created by the boundaries that you set and establish in every facet of your life (work colleagues, clients, caregiving, love & relationships with every person, even your finances, values and ethics). Every person has this as part of their “being”.

See next page for more…
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