Ever since last summer, when Princeton professor and former US State Department Director of Policy Planning Anne Marie Slaughter wrote that Atlantic article about Why Women Can’t Have It All, the topic of work/life balance has been a hot one among working women. It was reignited a month or two ago when American Bar Association President Laurel Bellows decried such talk about work/life balance as “fraud.”
Then, a couple weeks ago, the topic came up in a podcast for high-powered professional women. I was the guest on that podcast, speaking in the capacity of Captain Dad. In other words, speaking “as a man.”
Look, I’m not a total chump. I knew I could’t agree with Ms. Bellows without ticking off a lot of women. But I couldn’t disagree for the same reason.
So I waffled and said that if it was a fraud, it was a useful one. Like the dazed boxer — Duhhh, I’m fine, coach, I’m fine, he didn’t lay a glove on me — sometimes we have to defraud ourselves in little ways in order to keep going.
Then something occurred to me: we were using all the wrong metaphors. I remembered learning back in nerd school — er, engineering school — that there is more than one kind of balance.
Too much of this talk about work/life balance conjures up the notion of some cosmic scales teetering back and forth. Sure, with enough organization and expertise, you may experience a split second in your life when those scales hold level and steady. But kids are inherently incompatible with that kind of balance. They’re forever wiggling and bouncing and throwing your life out of kilter in one way or another.
The real problem, as I see it, is with this particular model of balance. It pursues what we propeller heads call “static stability.” To put it in terms that are more current in my life, picture a bicycle with training wheels. It stands up even when it stands still. It has that static stability.
For big people like us, however, the training wheels have come off long ago. And, as we know, a bicycle without training wheels cannot stand up.
Unless you start pedaling. And if you keep pedaling, you can shift around on the seat, have a bag of groceries swinging from the handle bars, bound over curbs and careen around corners. You can even manage a child squirming in a kid seat. All of that, and you won’t fall down. As long as you keep going. Because when you’re pedaling, your bicycle has dynamic stability.
Same with work/life balance. The secret is, just keep pedaling.