You are a master multitasker. You can take an emergency work call while pulling carpool duty (hands-free, of course). You can chow down on a family dinner while sending a few last-minute emails to the team. And you can even take a client to a yoga class so you can mark two things off your to-do list at once. But is this idea of work-life balance really healthy? Dr. Daryl Appleton, psychotherapist and Fortune 500 executive coach, actually tells us that this type of work-life overexertion is toxic.
Wait, how exactly is trying to achieve work-life balance toxic?
“There is absolutely no such thing as work-life balance,” Dr. Appleton puts bluntly. “We will never work 40 hours and then rest 40 hours. It’s impossible. This wild goose chase leaves us feeling less fulfilled and even more burnout.”
So what's wrong with the fallacy of work-life balance? You're putting endless unnecessary pressure and guilt on yourself to achieve a “balance” that will never happen. The result is that you feel even more depleted. This is toxic as it keeps you in a vicious cycle where you can never win, which means you can't grow. In a sense, chasing work-life balance traps you.
How do you know if you’re guilty of this?
Well, first of all, so many of us are guilty of this cycle. Work-life balance is preached from every corner of the corporate ladder. So you're not alone. And you know you're experiencing toxic levels of it when, according to Dr. Appleton, you feel like nothing is ever accomplished. You feel guilty about missing things in life or at work. You go through the motions of self-care because it's “scheduled” rather than because you're actually engaged and mindfully practicing it. “You push off deadlines or work to do the ‘fun stuff’ and end up in a bigger work-hole. You ignore your health and relationships to get work done thinking ‘I have a vacation in a few months,’” Dr. Appleton expands.
What’s the fix then?
The first step is to acknowledge the problem. “Recognize that there is no such thing as balance,” says Dr. Appleton. From there, create boundaries. This not only stops work from seeping into your personal life and vice versa, but it helps you stick to deadlines. Meeting deadlines is a habit. The more you do it, the easier it gets. And when you get more practice finishing work that needs to be done at work, you're less likely to bring any of your 9-to-5 to the dinner table.
You also need to practice making guilt-free decisions. “Allow yourself to reconnect with your wants and needs in a way that is judgement-free and rooted in self-care and healthy communication with self and others,” Dr. Appleton advises, pointing out that self-criticism is the fuel that burns the work-life balance engine. When you constantly judge yourself for not being enough, you'll never be enough. Cut yourself some slack. You deserve it.