International Women's Day 2019: Does work-life balance exist?

This International Women’s Day, Claire Small looks at the pressure we put ourselves under in order to strive for a good work-life balance and why it’s important to let this concept go.

If there is one myth that I think needs busting for women, it is that a work-life balance is possible. To me, it’s essential to put this illusion to bed so women stop feeling that this is something they need to strive to achieve and stop beating themselves up when they don’t manage to create the perfect life for themselves. 

Instead of work-life balance, there is a work-life seesaw in which we are constantly juggling the demands of our work, family and personal lives to try and keep things in perspective. Life is a process of constant change and activity. Usually, the see-saw is swinging wildly in one direction as we focus on whipping up that costume for world book day or looking after an elderly parent, or at the other end try desperately to finish that piece of work by the deadline or attend that networking event. 

This seesawing existence doesn’t mean we’re not managing or we need to let something go (unless we want to because we’re not enjoying it), it just means we’re living a full and varied life. Life isn’t straightforward. It’s messy and unpredictable and sometimes we just need to go with it. A friend of mine once said to me Women can have it all. They just can’t have it all at once”. Fantastic words for women to hear from a phenomenally successful woman — we need to stop beating ourselves up for not being superwomen. 

It’s OK to let go of our careers and focus on our kids or vice versa, spend time working long hours and focusing on developing our careers or our businesses while someone else looks after the kids, or we decide kids can wait. In celebrating International Women’s Day we really shouldn’t focus on how successful women are in various industries and careers. 

What we should be celebrating is that woman now have the right to choose how they live their lives. How they work to try and balance the seesaw, what things they will let unsettle the ride, what they will let go of and when. And I’m really mindful as I write this that while this may be true for me, my sisters in law, nieces and friends, there are many women all over the world, including parts of the UK (and Australia where I am from), for whom the ability to choose is only a dream. 

Those of us with choice owe it to those without to stop worrying about a work-life balance and start worrying about those who don’t get to choose between work and life.