Nik Wallenda made history in June 2013 when he became the first man to cross a Grand Canyon-area gorge on a tightrope. But while admirable, his achievement is not the inspirational work-life balance lesson some people suggest. Why? Because it’s just not possible to sustain that kind of balance for a long time.
It took every ounce of the seventh-generation member of the famous Flying Wallendas high-wire family’s concentration, skill, and determination to complete the 22-minute crossing, 1,500 feet above the Little Colorado River Gorge. His walk was a continual series of careful adjustments, taking into account the wind, the weight of his bar, and the movement of the wire beneath his feet.
That kind of balance required all his training and all his talent, a level of intensity that can only be channeled into a specific goal. Few would even consider attempting it—yet many people are drawn to try a different kind of high-wire act that I believe is equally beyond them.
I’m talking about the work-life balance that we are so often told to pursue; the search term brings up almost 200,000 Google results. The idea is that if we try hard enough, we can keep everything in our life in good order and perfect harmony. We meet all our work obligations and responsibilities but never miss a family dinner or one of the kids’ games. No one is ever disappointed, and everything works out just fine.
It’s a worthy goal to aspire to; but let’s be honest, we’re not going to achieve it. Life just isn’t like that. There are too many factors beyond our control. Don’t forget Nik wouldn’t have stepped out if the conditions had been too bad. But you can’t always say “No” to things just because the timing isn’t the best, right? Work goals still have to be met. Children must be fed and cared for.
For many, the concept of work-life balance has become unhelpful. A general principle that should be encouraging has become a cast-iron rule that too often leaves people feeling frustrated, failures, guilty, or inadequate. It can also drive a wedge between couples who feel the other isn’t pulling their weight as they should.
Even the words of wisdom from the ancient Book of Ecclesiastes remind us that we can’t always hold things in perfect tension. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven,” it declares. “A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted… a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up… a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together… a time to get, and a time to lose.” So let me be the one to give you permission to live life off-balance.
I’m not saying you should not be concerned about being the best worker, husband or wife, and parent that you can, all at the same time. But sometimes those demands don’t all line up equally the same. Here are five things to keep in mind as you live off-balance.