Life balance


Ask a balance expert
I’m single and I work 55 hours a week in a job I’m crazy about. But my mom finally admitted that my whole family thinks I’m a workaholic who needs help before I burn out. Who’s right?

By Karen Wright
First published in Chatelaine’s March 2003 issue.

© Karen Wright

With so much hype about work/life balance these days, it’s easy to criticize anyone who’s intensely focused, no matter what they’re focused on. And the criticism is almost always a case of the pot and the kettle because nobody’s life is perfectly balanced.

Balance: a work in progress
The biggest misperception of balance right now is that we should be able to fit everything into our life at once. Not so. Most of us don’t have nearly enough time for all the things we like to do. When we become the target of other people’s criticism, it’s often because our path doesn’t reflect the life they want for themselves. I’ve had clients who, like you, were happy in their job, getting regular promotions and enjoying stimulating work they were good at. Then comes the weekend at the cottage with a stay-at-home-mom sister, who spends the entire time pointing out how fulfilling her own life is and questioning whether her working sister could possibly be as happy. This kind of episode can make you call your whole life into question. But it doesn’t have to. Just remember that well-intentioned but judgmental family members may be at a completely different stage in life and necessarily have different priorities. If you compare your life with that of anyone whose definition of balance is different from your own, you’re bound to be disappointed. The challenge: sticking up for your long-term plan even when others disagree with your choices.

Happiness on your own terms
The best way to get well intentioned friends and family off your case is to let them in on your standards for living. Then ask them to judge you based on those standards rather than their own. Take your relative out for coffee and explain your plans for the future. Maybe you do want a husband and family but see that becoming a priority later on, once you’ve reached some important milestones at work. With these new insights, your family might not only admire your clarity, but they may even ask for help in doing that same kind of planning in their own lives.

Beware burnout
Not everyone who works long hours is doing it with a plan in mind. If you resent those extra hours, or find yourself feeling tired and burned out rather than energized and clear-headed, it’s time to make a change. Take a look at your life plan, identify your long-term priorities and work toward creating balance over the course of your lifetime rather than trying to cram it all in this minute. If you’re happy with the way your life is right now, congratulations. Just make sure your plan includes considerations for health, fitness and rejuvenation, because if you’re going to get all the important things done in life, you need to have the energy and mental clarity to accomplish them.

Karen Wright is a professional coach specializing in life balance and improved workplace culture. She can be reached at

  • Balance: a work in progress
  • Happiness on your own terms
  • Beware burnout

  • Tuning up your life
  • The prize is time

  • The “get a life” workshop
  • Wheel of life
  • Serenity now!

  • Talk with others about work-life balance in our Work forum

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