Balance? No, Thank You

This week’s blog prompt over at Student Affairs Women Talk Tech asked about tech-life balance:

How has technology helped you to create balance in your career/life or caused you to become unbalanced?

But, I don’t want to talk about balance (and I’m not alone. There’s a movement away from the term “balance” to “fit,” which offers more flexibility). I’m sick of talking about balance and the implied judgement that those of who can’t find balance are somehow lacking. A recent article in PCWorld by Bruce Gain made the following point:

But where do you draw the line between work, downtime, and play? Like anything else, it’s up to the individual to determine what is right for them. I happen to enjoy my work, so checking work e-mail even on a Saturday upon waking doesn’t make me unhappy. When I don’t feel like working I ignore my work-related inbox . . . I am sure that the outcry of how work is continually encroaching on what is supposed to be downtime will only become bigger, but if you are doing what you want to do, why is the act of constantly combining work and play such a bad thing?

Exactly. I love my work. In fact, I would say that my work (both in the Women’s Center and my teaching) is absolutely central to my identity. It’s who I am. So I don’t mind working during what are supposedly non-work hours. I’m not even sure I know what non-work hours are. I’m not saying this works for everyone and, as Gains notes, it needs to be up to the individual (even I chafe a bit if I feel that my supervisors are expecting me to be constantly available). And as someone pointed out to me yesterday, knowing when to get your downtime is important, which is why most Sunday afternoons you’ll find me on the sofa reading a novel and/or napping instead of in front of the computer or attached to my iPhone.

What irritates, though, is the way the conversation around balance almost always privileges people who opt for working less and implies that those of us who come down on the “work-more” side are in the wrong. It just so happens that for me work (and that means tech in many ways) is life and I think that’s OK (I also realize that I am incredibly lucky to be able to get paid to do something I’d do for free and I am eternally grateful for that privilege). So, if I promise not to judge you for spending Saturday afternoon at your child’s soccer game sans smartphone, will you return the favor and not judge me for spending that same Saturday afternoon working on a grant proposal or grading?

5 thoughts on “Balance? No, Thank You

  1. I really like your discussion on the judgment associated with balance, Brenda. I used to kill myself on trying to balance 5 different areas of my life. The shift for me can when I started to think about “aligning” my life toward the things most important to me. Doing this helped me realize all 5 pieces weren’t going to each get 20% of my effort. Instead, I put them in order of importance, and they get varying %s of my effort based on what’s needed at any one time. That approach has been workable, where trying to balance wasn’t, and technology gets used to the extent it helps in furthering those priorities.

  2. I don’t disagree with you, but I know how much you enjoy work. Where I struggle with the fit or balance – whatever you want to call it – is when someone else’s expectations are pushed on me. I think if you make it clear that that’s what you do but that you don’t expect the people you supervise to do the same thing, that’s great. But when you work all weekend and they come back to a full inbox b/c they choose not to, don’t be surprised if they get frustrated…just speaking from experience here :-). 
    I think that you are very fortunate to love what you do so much – and I think it’s great that you can work on the weekend and feel good about it. I hope someday I can be in that same place, and if you count my blogging or social media as “work,” in some ways, I probably am. 
    When I came up with this blog prompt, I was really thinking of those people who talk about spending so much time with technology takes away from that in-person time and therefore creates imbalance in personal relationships, when I know that many of us feel just the opposite because we use it to enhance those relationships. 

  3. What I was really to get at it (and I think I didn’t quite get there) was how irritating I find the implied moral judgements folks make of those who work “too much.” There’s a difference between saying someone needs their downtime as I note in the post and making someone feel that by spending time working instead of with a family, there is something morally suspect about them. *That’s* what drives me crazy. Mind you, the family needs to have a say in what fit works best also — the reason my life works for me is because I don’t have kids and I have a partner who actually works more than I do (I’m the one who drags him out). And I know how to take of myself so as to avoid burnout. So I wish folks would just let me be already (not you — I know what you meant with your post. It’s just a topic that we’ve done a lot of programming on this year at the Center and well, it’s irritated me).

    By the way, I actually don’t email that much on the weekends anymore. But I get up wicked early now and get my email now then, so now people get to come in to full inboxes every morning. It’s much worse 🙂

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