If you’ve been in the workforce longer than two weeks (and maybe even if you haven’t), you’ve probably heard that work-life balance is the key to a satisfying and successful career. We read about it, talk about, even lead committees dedicated to finding ways to improve it. But, what if I told you that I think our notion of balance is a stumbling block to our success.

What Is Balance, Anyway?

Maybe it’s my legal background, but I think the problem with balance starts with how we define it. Dictionary.com defines balance as:

  1. A state of equilibrium or equipoise…
  2. Mentalsteadiness or emotional stability; habit of calm behavior, judgment, 

If we’re honest, however, this isn’t at all how we define balance. We aren’t really looking for equilibrium, harmony, calm, or poise, are we?

We’re looking for perfection.

It seems to me that far too many of us believe that if we just find the right hack, the right app, or the right planner, we’ll be magically transformed into a being that can do everything, perfectly, right now.

We can work the perfect job, and build the perfect career, all while clocking the perfect number of hours. We can wear perfect clothes and have perfect hair. We can come home to our neatly manicured yards, which surround our stylishly decorated homes. We can spend just the right amount of time with our wonderful, talented, and well-behaved children before turning our attention to our loving and devoted partners. We can spend our free time (of which we have plenty, of course) with our amazing circle of friends or giving back to causes that move and inspire us, always with a sense of generosity and cheer. We can invest in ourselves, personally and professionally, and we can always prioritize our “me time.”

A Little Dose of Reality

I’m not saying any of those things are bad. I might even want a little more of each of them in my own life. What I am saying is that perfection isn’t an achievable goal, and it certainly isn’t balance.

The truth is, few of us are actually living the life we envision as “balance.” Sure, we excel at a handful (or maybe more) of the things on our list of shoulds, but regardless of how much we’re actually getting done, or how well we do it, we cling to our skewed notion of balance.

Why does it matter? Simple. Striving for perfection under the guise of balance makes us feel like a failure. It becomes just one more thing we aren’t doing well. One more way we’re aren’t quite good enough. And in so doing, it sprinkles the seeds of self-doubt and self-criticism.

Back to Equilibrium and Peace

What would happen if we changed our notion of balance? What if, instead of trying to live up to an unattainable list of shoulds, we focused on achieving a sense of calm and equilibrium? How would your life be different?

Would you say no more often?

Would you stop pushing so hard and let things unfold more naturally?

Would you be able to calm the voice of self-doubt that says you aren’t doing it right?

This doesn’t mean we have to lower our standards. Rather, it shifts our focus from an unattainable list of things you have to have, do and be to be “balanced” to a notion that peace and equilibrium are in and of themselves the end goal. May you find a little more of each today.