A friend and colleague said to me at a recent professional conference that she doesn’t believe in work-life balance, rather she looks for work-life harmony. If that didn’t capture exactly what I’ve been trying to say to students and other colleagues for so long, I don’t know what could! This is not a new concept, but one I’ve been trying to re-frame personally.
Then a few days later I read an article in Business Insider saying the exact same thing. The CEO of Amazon expresses some of these same sentiments. When you find your true calling and passion, it gets very difficult to turn work or life outside of work on and off. To try to do so is self-defeating.
The difference is not trivial. The clues are in the definitions and synonyms you find through a simple web search. Balance is about even distribution and equilibrium. It connotes impartiality. Harmony, meanwhile, is about agreement, combination, and even peace. What words would you rather choose or embrace related to the relationship between work and life? I really appreciated this author’s very personal and practical take on Balance vs. Harmony.
I’m curious how those of you reading this experience work-life harmony. Is there a real difference? What do you actually do to achieve harmony?
Whatever you feelings about this – know that it is OK that your work and non-work intersect. Embrace it; understand it is messy and sometimes confusing; and at the end of the day try to achieve harmony between the two. You spend so much time thinking about or doing work, it just seems to make sense that you seek harmony as opposed to some artificial sense of balance.
Tom Matson wrote in his book, “UNFROZEN: A Father’s Reflections on a Brain Tumor Journey:”
Grace: a word and associated actions I’ve never been able to comprehend. I don’t think our minds can fully grasp grace. I know many people could define grace differently, but for me, I see it as receiving love when we don’t necessarily deserve it. It’s love when we least expect it, and it’s love when we have done nothing to receive it.
I use this word often in my work as a Vice President. Particularly when working in a sector of higher education where students struggle to make ends meet, get to class, eat, fit in, and support their families. A sector where employees show up to do their best, but don’t always get there, or who are constantly challenged by shrinking resources and battered by the tides of the changing sea that is higher education. All of this is compounded by the ugly realities that plague us as a society, including all the ism’s we hear about and experience daily. What I realize is still missing in so many places is grace.
If we could all just give a little more grace, and be more full of grace, then it makes life more bearable. As a Christian, I believe that grace and mercy sit at the core of the love that saves us. If it were not for these twins we would be lost. So I often wonder how I can give grace in my interactions, as I teach acceptance in the work I do. I call on my colleagues who are engaged in the oftentimes thankless and tough work of education to give each other grace as we struggle through this life. Sometimes its the only thing that we have left, and its the only thing that keeps us trying despite the difficulty.
I have this bit of advice to share for all you new graduates – and some of us older graduates too:
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
~Matthew 6:34 NIV
Whether you are particularly religious or not, whether you are Christian or not, my hope is that you can see the wisdom in those words. I’m actually practicing doing this more myself. In higher education, particularly leadership education within higher ed, we always implore people to be present. Part of the reason people are not present is because they are distracted. And many people are distracted not by technology but by their own worry and stress about tomorrow. This scripture reminds us of two important facts. One, tomorrow will worry about itself. And two, there are too many troubles to deal with today to be worrying about tomorrow.
So as you start off in your new careers, particularly in higher ed, remember that balance starts with realizing that for today, focus on dealing with today. Today really needs you. The students in front of you, the meeting you’re in, the program you’re planning. Those are problems for today. And as I always say to those in my workplace – that other stuff…that’s a tomorrow problem.
In Asian philosophy, the concept of yin yang is used to describe how polar opposites or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn. I use this concept often in my understanding of marriage, leadership, and other societal or natural constructs. To illustrate, I tell folks who are thinking about a long-term committed relationship to remember the yin yang of commitment. Imagine the worse thing you can think about your significant other – the most annoying thing they do or say – and imagine having to deal with that day-in and day-out…for eternity. Sounds daunting huh? But that’s not where it ends. Think about the joy that person brings you – the feeling of security, the love, the assurance that someone is there – and imagine having to deal with that day-in and day-out…for eternity. Not so bad. To make it in any relationship, you take the good and the bad.
In leadership, one of my favorite poems, The Penalty of Leadership, captures this concept beautifully. “Jealously does not protrude its forked tongue at the artists who produces a commonplace painting.” When you step up to the challenge of being a leader, you get enourmous benefit with that. Recognition, letters of recommendation, opportunities to network, getting that great first job. But leadership also comes with a great burden – failure, being in a fishbowl, being held to higher standards, and pure unadulterated hateration from so many people. That’s the yin yang of leadership.
As a student, you also have to walk a delicate line. Being a student has its benefits and rewards, and it has its costs. As you round the bend on yet another semester, consider what excites you about being a student. Then consider what scares you. What are your favorite parts of school and of being a student? What parts do you hate? In school I always liked the lectures (weird huh?) The expert standing in front of the room bestowing knowledge; it always felt very “academic” to me. But I didn’t like homework, or getting up early, or having to meet deadlines, or sometimes working in groups. Being a successful student meant embracing both of these realities. Too often we want to do what we like, and ignore what we hate, causing many of us to fail and inaccurately conclude that we are bad _________ (fill in the blank). You’re not a bad _________ you are just unwilling to accept the yin yang of your situation. Leaders face the same fate, as they want all the glory with none of the work or responsibility. Take time to reflect on the yin yang of your life, leadership, academic career, or work life. Getting comfortable with the good and bad is essential if you are to be successful – otherwise you only live life understanding half of the picture – and you will never finish with only half the information.