“You need to find balance”: these words can come in form of an admonition, advice or appeal. The most common instance where we hear this is in respect of work and family. We are told to find work-life balance and when folks say this, they mean we should not be found to be tilting towards one spectrum of our existence at the expense of the other. The gender that hears this the most is female. Women are admonished to ensure they never neglect the home because of a career, and so, all her life, she is in a constant state of contouring herself in many different ways to see that she “finds that balance”.
But is it possible to achieve balance? Can we always be 100% at home and 100% at work in terms of work rate, delivery and all other qualities that are taken into consideration when a person is described as a typical example of living a balanced life?
I struggle to see how living a balanced life is possible on a consistent basis.
While one may make it happen sometimes, an individual would have to acquire godlike powers to be the ever-available CEO and hands-on father, for instance.
An executive who gets his hands dirty at work all the time will be unavailable to do the same on the home front at least half the time. The kids’ daily homework and Saturday football practice with his son will be missed or delegated to someone else sometimes.
And it’s not because daddy is irresponsible or lacks sufficient desire to be the father who participates in every assignment or house chore, it’s the reality that he has countless other obligations that need his attention and take up his time.
Young women are advised to centre themselves in a way that sees that they get along with in-laws by being accommodating and submissive, yet not being pushovers. It’s good advice, but how easy is it in practical terms?
It’s the same way we struggle with the balanced diet doctors and nutrition experts have been harping on since we could read.
How do we revel in the little pleasures that ice-cream, candy, and cheeseburgers offer if we adhered strictly to a life of healthy living? Wouldn’t life even be boring if we did not have an infusion of the teeny weeny stuff that others say aren’t good for us?
For the Lagosian who gets home at 11 pm and is off to work at 4 am every morning, work-life balance is a myth.
The women who are at the zenith of their careers did not get there by cooking breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. If they did, they wouldn’t be where they are today.
They may feed their family healthy meals, but those meals certainly did not come from them wearing the toga of a superwoman by doing every house chore by themselves. They got help on their journey. They hired maids or had a supportive housekeeping team around them.
And it could be the other way round…a new mother who decides to pay more attention (as she should) to her baby instead of work or the recovering addict who is more focused on his mental health than any other thing.
The Dangotes and Otedolas of this world did not become billionaires by changing diapers every day or making meals to prove they are good husbands and fathers. If they did, they wouldn’t be gracing the cover of Forbes today.
My point: something has to give. Sacrifices that preclude balance have to be made to achieve anything remotely close to greatness in life.
When men admire a go-getter like the newly-elected DG of the World Trade Organisation, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, it’s in line to ask them if they’d be willing to make the sacrifices her husband made in helping her achieve her dream.
And no, we do not have to be insiders or live with the Okonjo-Iwealas to deduce that they couldn’t have lived the average life to be uber-successful at their individual careers.
It’s just not possible to be great by following rules like finding balance.
Balance is a myth.
Serious athletes spend the bulk of their time running and engaging in other activities to keep fit. Professional dancers spend considerable time dancing because that’s how to get better and command a higher wage.
Those who have their eye on rising through the ranks at work have to forego taking vacations or buying possessions to go back to school or learn skills that will enhance their chances of achieving their goals.
Many times, our lives will be lean more to a specific area at the expense of other aspects when we are looking to achieve something.
Balance is possible sometimes, not all the time.