(this article originally was originally published in my March 2014 newsletter)
I recognize that the title of this article is more than a little incendiary, and that’s completely intentional. I’m hoping it’s shocking enough that you’ll actually read this one all the way through. Because the next few paragraphs are among the most important I’ve written, and I sincerely believe they have the power to improve your outlook on the subject of work-life balance.
First off, I think empowerment in every form is a wonderful thing. Everyone deserves the ability to become whatever he or she wishes to become. That idea is the animating force behind our Declaration of Independence, and the entire history of our country is one of almost continuous movement toward more and more social equality (with a few unfortunate detours). Especially in the last 50 years, we’ve seen strides toward equal opportunity that were literally unimaginable a century ago anywhere in the world. We’re on the right track.
But for many women, this struggle has been made infinitely more difficult than it needs to be. I’m focusing on women here because while the “work-life balance” issue affects all of us, it’s an issue that seems to loom far larger in the minds of women. Various surveys show that work-life issues are generally a bigger problem for women than men, and the majority of the books and lectures that deal with the subject – of which the works and words of Sheryl Sandberg are probably the most popular current examples – are targeted toward predominantly female audiences. Fortunately, the work-life conundrum is an easy problem to explain, and it’s an even easier problem to solve.
Solve the work-life issue? Absolutely. And I’ll do it in less than 350 more words.
The basic idea of equality, regardless of what kind of equality you’re searching for, is that you should be able to do anything, and that is a goal worth fighting for. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way that idea has been misinterpreted by too many women who come to believe they should be able to do everything. That, in a nutshell, explains 100% of the psychological underpinnings of the entire work-life question. If you think you’re supposed to be amazing at every facet of life, you will have work-life issues. It’s as simple as that.
And if that makes sense, then the solution should be as obvious as it is easy to do: let go. Simply let go of the notion that you must excel at everything. The people who tout themselves as work-life gurus are not enormously more efficient than you. They are not excellent workers and mothers and fathers and husbands and wives and bosses and housekeepers and friends and volunteers. They are some of those things, and they’ve made peace with the fact that they will never be all of those things. That’s their only secret.
This tends to be an easier concept for men to accept because we’ve never been expected to do everything. For the last several centuries, our main job has been to provide food, security, and financial support for our families. If we happened to be decent husbands and fathers in the process, that was mostly a bonus. Now men are being expected to handle a larger share of the housework and child-rearing as well – but even so, there aren’t too many men out there who beat themselves up if their cooking skills are limited to barbecue chicken and frozen pizza, and I don’t know a single guy who can accurately explain why we need a delicates cycle. We’re not great breadwinners and handymen and baseball coaches and thoughtful romantics, and we tend to be OK with that.
And you should be OK with it too, ladies. You deserve anything you want to have. But you can’t be amazing at everything. Nobody is. And the only ones expecting you to be perfect are you.