The Work-Life Balance: Does It Even Exist?

work life balance

This post should be on my other website, strictly speaking; it’s much more concerned with family and personal life than it is with beauty or fashion or (new passion!) interiors. But these worlds necessarily cross over and I thought that a bit of a chat about work and life and balancing the two things might be interesting to you. If you don’t read my family blog, The Uphill, then you can read it here or subscribe to the posts via email here. It’s very much baby- and mum-life focused but offers a bit of light relief and (hopefully) down-to-earth reality if the world of Insta-perfect posing and preening sometimes gets you down.

Now to the issue at hand: work-life balance. Phrases such as “work-life balance” and “digital detox” and “sleep hygiene” have become buzzwords for our generation and I don’t know whether it’s because we are altogether more self-obsessed (stay with me, don’t get all offended and stroppy!) or whether we genuinely try to do too many things at once. Because in this modern age we can do too many things at once. There’s no way my Mum could have worked full time with three young children and no help, but today’s Mum can kill herself trying, because she has a smart phone and a laptop and a 24/7 connection with the outside world that never turns itself off. She can work at 2am, if she wants to (and she often does) and because the opportunity is there she more often than not feels as though she’s somehow failing if she doesn’t take every possible chance to “get things done”.

(I’m using mothers as an example because they probably have the ultimate guilt-ridden, stress-laden work-life juggle. I’m not by any means trying to trivialise the workload of non-Mums; blimey, I used to work 70+ hours a week before I had Angelica. It was ridiculous. Working too much is probably more of a hazard when you don’t have children – there’s very little to make you stop, if you’re a bit of a workaholic. You just keep on going into the night until your eyes are as dry as little prunes and you’ve become all jumpy and weird because it’s so quiet outside and the house is making funny creaks.)

work life balance

But back to this whole work/life balance thing. Are we making a fuss over something that we should just take in our stride? Stop analysing so much? Recently I’ve started to thing that we could really simplify matters by admitting that there is possibly no such thing as a work life balance! You either work too much and hate it for various reasons and therefore have to cut down, or you love your work but don’t have enough time for it and basically have to find a way to shoehorn it in wherever you can. Which is what I now have to do with a two year old toddler and a one year old baby. I have a nanny for two days a week and I try and get the bulk of my work done then, but inevitably I only get around 30-40% done in those two days and find myself writing proposals for brand work at 10.30pm and editing video footage over breakfast when the babies are watching Paw Patrol. I don’t want to work flat-out for any more days than that, because I want to spend time with the children before they grow up too fast and hop off to school and then university and then OH GOD. Really, if I was a sane human being, I would have more dedicated work days, but it just doesn’t feel comfortable for some reason. It niggles.

And I’m lucky that I’m in the position that I can choose to work less, but in actual fact I’m not really working less at all, I’m just fitting the work in (haphazardly) elsewhere. Because I want to do it. That’s the “work-life balance” I’ve found, but there’s absolutely no balance to it, I’ve just prioritised time with the babies over having more luxuriously quiet and uninterrupted work days.

But by applying the word “balance” to my set-up, I constantly question it all and wonder whether the time I’m allocating to my career is enough, or whether I should really be on Instagram when I should be fully engaged in bashing a wooden frog’s head with a hammer for the eightieth time. Is the idea of a “work-life balance” actually helpful to anyone? I mean, you either work as much as you do because you have to, in which case there’s not much movement there and it’s pointless beating yourself up over it, or you work because you want to.

work life balance

I suppose the idea of a work-life balance is there to remind us that we need to have downtime and the space to do things other than drive our careers or do enough overtime to pay for a nicer car. (For many people, the idea of a work life balance is laughable because they are paid such a despicably low wage they are forced to toil all the hours God sends, which is a whole other discussion.) The notion of balance is perhaps a good thing for those who might otherwise speed through life without ever stopping to take a breath and appreciate the ride – the serial goal-setters, the incurable achievement-addicts and the people who never feel as though their best is good enough.

Perhaps it’s different when life forces you to slow down – through starting a family, or maybe through ill-health – perhaps then the idea of a “work-life balance” is more about how you juggle the necessary components of your life, rather than remembering to take some time out of your 100% work existence.

I’d love to know your thoughts. I’m sure that this has turned into a bit of a jumble, really, which is – as I said at the start – a post more fitting to The Uphill. But I know that so many readers here struggle with time management and fitting everything in; I suppose I wanted to offload! Comments welcome.

Oh: and have we become more self-obsessed? Analysing everything from our sleep quality to our bowel movements to the number of hours we spend looking at Twitter? Or is it a good thing that we’ve started to take a long hard look at ourselves?

© 2018 A Model Recommends®: all opinions are my own and any sponsored or paid posts will always be clearly marked as an AD in the title. I accept press samples and receive product and services to review as part of my job. *Outbound links are affiliate links, which means that I receive a very small percentage of any sale made. This does not affect my content in any way and does not cost you anything, but you are most welcome to Google the products on a new page if you prefer. Please see here for full "about" section and disclaimer. A Model Recommends and Ruth Crilly are registered trademarks.

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32 Comments

  1. Emma
    March 11, 2018 / 10:26 pm

    Thanks Ruth for putting a thoughtful spin on a subject that has been plaguing me for a few months now. I am desperately trying to find the balance and feel like I’m eternally fire fighting, so this may just be the different perspective that I have needed to pull myself out of this constant battle. Thank you x

    • Lydia
      March 18, 2018 / 2:10 pm

      Good luck Emma! You can do it!

  2. wjs57
    March 11, 2018 / 11:22 pm

    Ruth-I became a partner in a large City law firm at pretty much the same time as becoming pregnant with my first child just over 25 years ago. I recognise what you say about just keeping on working until your eyes dry up. I really wanted “it all” and was lucky to have a great career and two healthy beautiful children-then I got hit with a chronic illness and had to slow down (though luckily not give up). It made me think a bit more about balance in a way that I would not otherwise have done. My children are grown up and I am still working at a career I love. Maybe if I had been full time and full on I would have burnt out by now-who can say ? The truth is that if you love what you do there will be times when it dominates because it has to and then there will be other times when your relationships simply must come first. Like you I suffered a bereavement recently and the people closest to me simply had to come first-no ifs no buts. That’s balance-not each day maybe not each week or even each month but over a lifetime of juggling what matters is making the right choices about what and who needs to be prioritised. Good luck with the juggling-I would say it is definitely worth it -if you have a career that you love and a family that you love that is an amazingly privileged position to be in and worth a bit of hassle from time to time.

  3. Caroline
    March 11, 2018 / 11:22 pm

    Hi Ruth,
    funny that your post on this topic turns up now because I have just attended a workshop on the „work-Life Balance“ issue. A major point was that what is considered a bad work-Life Balance does not equal unhappiness if you just love what you are doing.
    I attended this workshop because I was sort of confused about all the things that you are supposed to do these days in order to have what is considered a good work life balance. I tried to force myself to do some of these things because I thought then I would feel even better but it rather stressed me. And I find myself worrying too much about my future work life balance (starting s family etc) because I don’t know how to fit everything together. Because even in 2018 there are still people judging you for being a full time working mum ( Why have children if you work so much?!) So what. If I love what I am doing why not use the advantage of smartphones and 24/7 internet connection and be flexible and manage work and life how I see fit. I let too many things make me a bad conscience and I think this is what stresses me and not the „bad“ work life balance.

  4. SomeGirlMel
    March 12, 2018 / 3:09 am

    No, you just do it and get by. I actually find people who talk about how “it’s all work life balance” nauseating.

    • Lydia
      March 12, 2018 / 3:29 pm

      Loved it! Thanks for linking

    • HannahB
      March 12, 2018 / 7:18 pm

      This article is everything. Never have I found myself nodding along quite so enthusiastically while reading.

    • Laurie
      March 12, 2018 / 7:55 pm

      I’m looking forward to reading this – thank you for sharing!

    • MontyC
      March 13, 2018 / 11:22 pm

      What a superb piece! Thank you for sharing

    • Mansi
      March 20, 2018 / 6:29 am

      such an honest article. Thanks for linking!

  5. Cece
    March 12, 2018 / 8:32 am

    We have become more self-obsessed as a modern society. On one hand, it gives us the impetus we need to take care of our bodies and health. Exercise, eat well and look after our psyches by carving out some self-care time. This part of it is brilliant. On the other hand, I think too much in the wrong direction can breed self-consciousness and a level of hypochondria/neuroses. It’s not difficult to become a bit paranoid in this era of tracking apps and Dr. Google! I think the only solution is to just weed out what you absolutely don’t need, and practice what makes you feel good.

    I really enjoyed this post! I still haven’t found the right work/life balance. I’ve been a workaholic, stay-at-home Mum, then workaholic again. I agree that the only thing niggling in the back of my mind constantly, is that I want to spend more time with my daughter. Thanks for bringing this to light – very thought provoking for a Monday morning!

  6. Julia
    March 12, 2018 / 8:42 am

    I agree. Life is a balancing act. I’m not sure anyone can sustain a work-life balance, but small moments of equilibrium help me feel steady in the ups and downs.
    I know that when I feel good I can ride life’s ups and down like a champion surfer and they make me feel alive and in control. But when I feel out of kilter and unbalanced the highs and lows are like in-flight turbulence and I end up sitting tight feeling frightened, panicky and powerless.
    Those little moments of equilibrium bring relief. For me it’s about making time to sleep enough, eat properly and getting some exercise. Took me decades to work that simple solution out! Doh. And having time for friends.
    Sorry to read about your father’s death; it knocked me for six when my parents died. Grief fades, but love never dies. x

  7. Jan
    March 12, 2018 / 8:46 am

    I remember hearing Nigella Lawson say that a working mother has 3 “lives”; family life work life and social life, and that you can only do 2 of those 3 well, which 2 is up to you. I drew great comfort form this at the time, I worked part-time with 3 young children, and struggled to commit to friends and going out. This sort of gave me permission to go, “you know what, sod it, I need to pay the bills and spend time with my family. Now they are adults the social life is emerging from hibernation, troubles is that last time I went out was circa 1987, shoulder pads, scrunchies and MAC Twig lipstick…..

  8. March 12, 2018 / 9:23 am

    We are more self-concerned, because we can. When the struggle to survive isn’t as present and the access to everything much easier than it used to be, how would we not be?
    As a full time working mum of two that runs the blog and You Tube as a hobby, I am constantly working. Either away from home, or with the kids, or in the evenings, just for different “jobs”. But as I love both my work and my hobby and, of course, my kids, I am not sure I need a balance. I only put my phone away between 4 pm and 8 pm, when the kids are with me and awake, to not go “quickly on Twitter”, just because I am away for most of the day and after that the kids are asleep.

  9. Cassandra
    March 12, 2018 / 9:58 am

    Beautifully put Ruth.

  10. Laura
    March 12, 2018 / 10:55 am

    Interestingly enough, I struggled with work life balance far more before I had my baby than afterwards. Before, I felt immense pressure to work all hours to the neglect of absolutely every other area of my life – eating fresh food (I mostly ordered takeaway to my desk in the evenings), exercising, getting enough sleep, seeing my friends, phoning my mother, cleaning my house. I sarificed it all on the altar of my career, to the detriment of my health and all of my relationships (some of which suffered very badly). After having a baby, it’s so much easier. I can accept that my daughter needs to see me and spend time with me, but I never accepted before that I needed some balance in my life. It is easier to leave the office for her needs than it ever was when the “need” was my own health. Pre-baby, I couldn’t justify leaving work in the evening. Now, I can, and I do.

  11. Cas
    March 12, 2018 / 11:03 am

    I think that when we imagine work life balance we see a nice set of scales with equal weight on each side. 50% home/me 50% work. The reality is that balance is that fight we have to stay upright while standing on one leg in yoga or walking the tightrope or trampolining: we wobble away, swerve around a bit but ultimately stay upright! We have got so used to thinking about balance as even distribution that we’ve forgotten the other definitions: “physical equilibrium” “pleasing integration of elements”. If we can start to think about balance in this way maybe it becomes less stressful? Maybe even more playful and joyful and we can laugh more at those times when we just want to tear our hair out and/or cry. Who wants to be balanced anyone, soooo not as much fun!!

  12. Jane
    March 12, 2018 / 11:29 am

    I gave up work at the end of 2016, temporarily, I intend to look for a new job sometime this year. I was completely sucked dry and burnt out by my job in the NHS (which will bleed you dry, it’s thankless and unrelenting pressure) and the deaths of both my parents within 15 months of each other, my dad in April 2015 and my mum in July 2016. Basically I couldn’t cope and was self harming due to the extreme levels of mental stress I was under. My body and mind were sending me unequivocal messages to stop and take time out for myself; our bodies/minds are actually quite good at that, but unfortunately it can be all too easy to try and carry on regardless, usually for a whole host of reasons. If I hadn’t heeded the warnings I dread to think what the outcome would have been. I am so very thankful I had the financial means to stop work and take time out and I realise not everyone has this luxury. Maybe this is one reason for the increase in mental illness in the 21st century.

  13. Marie
    March 12, 2018 / 12:27 pm

    It is all a compromise isn’t it? You have worked hard to build up your career and you love to work, so why would you stop? On the other hand, the time with your children is precious too. I would say that these early years of being a working mum are hard but worth it, before long they will be at school and you will have much more time. You have to do what suits you and don’t feel guilty.

  14. Hannah C
    March 12, 2018 / 6:39 pm

    There are plenty of people who have the opposite problem: one of my friends has a life-limiting condition was medically retired at 32. She’d love to go back to working 60 hours a week as a primary school teacher. Most people who work very long hours secretly like it and there’s nothing wrong with that!

  15. Ana
    March 12, 2018 / 9:10 pm

    Thank you for this post. Its such a confusing topic which, for me anyway, brings up many contradictory feelings. I have a stressful job that, when I allow myself to be sucked in, I enjoy. And I have a family I adore, including a new baby. For years I was very ambitious, even after having children. But at 37, I am in a different place in my life. And I no longer believe you can “have it all” or that a true “work-life balance” exists. The guilt when being away from my children is painful. But the perfectionist in me and remnants of my career ambition won’t let me give less than 100%. A choice between the two has to be made.

  16. Nancy
    March 12, 2018 / 9:40 pm

    I agree, things have changed massively over the years – because nowadays most relationship-based families have two providers, it’s become the norm and has basically put an end to “stay at home mothers”. Well for many anyway. Those who are well-off generally have the luxury of choice. Where in the past, people had less and enjoyed a difficult but more simple life, nowadays thanks to our smartphones people compare one another to their peers and work their bums off out of fear of being left behind (so and so has a new car, new home, luxury belongings etc, then I can have that too…just work harder). I must admit feeling very guilty since having a family. Where in the past I used to be able to go above and beyond, now I draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough. I can’t commit to my work now the same way I used to be able to before having a family. I look at some who manage a five-six day work work week and others who stay at home and admire all types of parents. I know that I couldn’t cope with either, so I’m somewhere in the middle and have chosen what I find is right for me and my family. I guess that’s the point, finding what “works” for you. Most days when dinner is complete and the baby is sleepInt, I think “woo hoo I survived”!

  17. Laura
    March 13, 2018 / 12:15 am

    I think much with everything in life it’s comparison that makes you feel guilty and like you aren’t squeezing every potential opportunity in your day to be achieving something. I once read in a magazine that was trying to inspire productivity and aspiration that you should remember you have the same 24 hours in your day as Beyonce has, so you probably could do more. At the minute I’m holding down a full time job that involves shift work, I have an 18month old that I went through IVF to have and would need to repeat if we wanted more children, and I’m trying to have a career and a social life too. More kids equals a bigger house and a better wage but the only way I’m going to do this is being able to offer more as a candidate for better jobs so I keep going. However I regularly question the whole thing, working less days and having less money probably would mean more family time and a calmer life, but won’t pay for a holiday once a year or a house, and certainly won’t let me “keep up” with my sister who doesn’t work and has three holidays a year and a personal trainer because her husband alone earns more than myself and partner combined. It’s also about the confidence in making the decision to live a certain way and not falter by thinking the grass may be greener if only you did this or that. Balance is just one of those words that makes it sound like a very simple equation for getting everything just right for your very specific and complicated situation. I’m not saying any of this is helpful but I’m saying the problem is universal, and wouldn’t it just be nice if someone could tell you exactly what it is we are all searching for to make ourselves happy and balanced.

  18. March 13, 2018 / 9:05 am

    Being a blogger is not an easy job and while I was reading your post, I could relate so much!
    I really dislike it when people underestimate how much work bloggers actually have to do to make a living out of it!
    Go girl!!!
    -Daria

  19. Kathryn
    March 13, 2018 / 10:00 am

    I think you’d really like the book Work Strife Balance by Mia Freedman. It’s all about how balance is bullshit. She’s an Australian who runs a women’s online media company at mamamia.com.au (which is also ace by the way), and she talks a lot about how much pressure we put on ourselves as women and mothers. She’s also really warm, empathetic, vulnerable, and funny. Such a great read

  20. Gabs Brown
    March 13, 2018 / 10:20 pm

    I think it’s a stupid term concerned only with the economic value of certain activities. It separates life into two halves when life is a hundred million different things. Some aspects of life are necessary, some are not, some are fun, some are boring, some are relaxing, some are stressful…some earn you money, some don’t. It’s not even relevant in today’s world where so many of us are self employed and/or work from home. Sometimes I fold laundry so that I don’t have to do role play with my little girl. Sometimes I fold laundry so that I can avoid answering boring work emails. Sometimes I answer email so I can avoid the laundry. Sometimes I do role play with my little girl so I can avoid answering work emails. It’s all mental, because I am a human and nobody even knows why we are here on planet earth anyway. It’s certainly got nothing to do with achieving a good work-life balance.

  21. Laura
    March 15, 2018 / 9:53 am

    In terms of being more self-obsessed as a society, I think what can be overlooked is the increasing atomisation and isolation of our ‘western’ society. People are treated as individuals who are worth a certain amount depending on (for example) their capacity to earn, or how much wealth they’ve inherited, or how physically attractive they are – which can have to do with having the time and money available to eat well, exercise, buy beauty products, get enough sleep. What can be overlooked is how much we all need one another, and how much our self esteem & mental health is improved by having and maintaining close relationships. Instead, making money is prioritised, often because it has to be because without communities and links with people we need to buy in childcare, decent food etc. And also we try to make ourselves feel better by buying things, which we need money for, maybe because we’re missing out on the good feelings that come from meaningful relationships.
    I say all this as a huge fan of your blog, Ruth. Often I will watch a video you’ve made when I’m feeling lonely because it’s good to see your life and your down to earth, messy happiness (huge assumption, I know you’re not always happy). I’m sorry your dad has passed away. That post made me cry. I like having you in my life, but can’t help thinking real physical people might be (even) better. I know there is room for both. Thank you for all your hard work, it means a lot to me and clearly to lots of others too.

  22. paula
    March 19, 2018 / 1:52 am

    Thank you so much for this post. In two weeks, I am going to be returning to work after almost five (FIVE) years at home with the children. Every day I go back and forth between being super excited and nervous that I wont be able to do it. Your post was just a reminder that 1) that is ok 2) there is no right answer, I have to decide what is best for me and my family and that whatever I decide will be ok. I have been following your blog for years and this is my first time commenting. I appreciate not only your dedication to your work but your genuine sincerity in approaching subjects that are not so easy to talk about.

  23. Mansi
    March 20, 2018 / 6:37 am

    I feel like the work life balance, at least as portrayed, is just an idea that exists in your head. Never the reality.
    Ultimately I think you need to very unapologetically pick how and where you want to spend your hours, and stick with your guts. Because in the end if you’re content, people around you will be happier and inspired.

  24. Laura
    March 23, 2018 / 3:23 pm

    I read an article recently (although can’t recall where to credit it!) where the author mentioned the word ‘balance’ being quite misleading, as it suggests walking carefully along a tightrope and suggests once you have it figured out, you can sustain the ideal ‘balance’ going forward, but in actual fact, the balance can vary from week to week, or even day to day. Sometimes the right balance is needing to spend more time with family and devotion to work has to be toned down and social life take a back seat, the other days/weeks, work has to take priority for a launch or project, and it might mean feeding the children quick and easy food that week etc. It was a bit of eye opener for me as a perfectionist, thinking I had to have it all balanced all the time, but in actual fact the components being balanced are in a constant state of flux, and you just need to know where your focus has to be at that particular time…

  25. April 23, 2018 / 4:26 pm

    Great post! I just think we have to be a little more strict with ourselves and not let others take advantage.

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