Dynamic Solution For Work/Life Balance

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.”

(Gulp!)

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.

Ding!

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.

balance1Too 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!

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.

3 thoughts on “Dynamic Solution For Work/Life Balance

  1. It’s ingenious to suggest that we’ve been using the wrong model for “balance”–that just makes so much sense. And I’m thinking you’ll get rousing support from any parent in the trenches that continued peddling is the key–and don’t think too much…just gets in the way. Still, while the world of engineering (and perhaps the cosmos) might allow for the sustainability of dynamic stability, in the analog world of mind and body and a truly fixed 24 hours in any given day (not to mention the intractable and highly unyielding demands placed both externally and from within on working moms and dads), it’s the sustainability that can give way. It leaves too many feeling like the dazed boxer for too long. Captain, given that you’re standing at both the fault line and at a place of possibility and potential–given your particular vantage point at this particular time in history on this particular spot on the new frontier–I’m wishing you many more podcasts so the dialog can continue.

  2. Unless this whole “work/life balance” thing involves some combination of pizza, wine and chocolate…it’s just not worth pursuing.

  3. I just discovered your blog, and I like it alot. You make a strong point about dynamic stability. It’s kind of like juggling–everything looks great as long as you keep going.
    People, of course, can’t keep going. We aren’t perpetual motion machines. That’s the crux of the problem–when something’s gotta give, what will it be? I think that, too often, society views family as one element in the mix, rather than the central component of our lives.
    I applaud those who choose not to have children so thatthey can focus on a career; I applaud those who choose to make raising their children their career. I pray for those who try to do both.
    I’m glad I found you! I just subscribed, so I look forward to readng more.

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