Defining Your Own Work-Life Balance

first-5-icon-07You can never talk enough about it these days: the elusive work-life balance. For millennials especially, managing work responsibilities while juggling personal priorities has become a difficult feat. But as current and fresh as the topic seems, “work-life balance” has actually been around for quite a while.

The History of Work-Life Balance
According to the history of work-life balance, during the ’60s and ‘70s, women in the workplace started to express their need for assistance in balancing personal and work responsibilities. Although government did address some of their concerns – with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 – most organizations were slow in providing work/life support. Finally, in the ’80s, a number of corporations began to implement life-enhancing policies such as maternity leave, flexible scheduling, telecommuting, and employee assistance. And although these family programs started out as women-oriented, they eventually shifted to accommodate both men and women’s needs.

Despite how far society has come, we’re still talking about achieving work-life balance. Managing the millennial work-life balance has become increasingly difficult because of the many societal, familial, and financial pressures millennials face. A Global Generational Study by PWC shows that millennials value greater flexibility in the workplace for this specific reason.

How to Define Your Work-Life Balance
Recently, I participated on a panel for a professional women’s network in the DC area, titled: “Effective Strategies to Manage Work-Life Balance Issues.” While the panel was specifically for women and work-life balance, I was struck by how many of us, regardless of marital status or background, seem to struggle with this. Regardless of age, generation, whether you’re married, single, kids or no kids, male or female, everyone in the workplace struggled to achieve this balance.

The strategies that emerged from that conversation are highly useful and applicable, but they’re not necessarily research-based. In fact, the most helpful tips and insights gleaned from the discussion were completely based on personal experiences. One thing we tend to forget is work-life balance is not a perfect recipe to follow, but a unique journey for every individual.

The most helpful tips I gained from that conversation were the following:

  • Find what you love outside of work. Find that passion that makes you tick. It doesn’t necessarily have to be raising a family. A lot of single young professionals are expected to make their lives all about work since they don’t have the same family priorities as their married counterparts. But regardless of relationship status, we all need lives outside of work. Whether it’s raising a puppy, training for a marathon, gardening, or volunteering, having that passion that we look forward to when we’re out of the office is necessary for making our lives more than just about work. It actually can make us more productive on the job too.

Yes, it’s important to find purpose, passion, and meaning in our work, especially as millennials. But it’s also important to ask yourself: Are you living to work? Or working to live? Because a healthier work-life balance means choosing the latter.

  • Be ready to make choices. This is probably the part we fear the most. Balancing work and a family will require plenty of difficult choices and personal sacrifice. But making those choices and learning to live with them without looking back is what defines our individual work-life balances.

For example, as a full time spouse and student, my weekends don’t look the same as many of my millennial colleagues. Most twenty-somethings my age regularly stay out late on the weekends. I’m not saying I don’t have any sort of social life, but I don’t have the same flexibility to go out to the bars or take off on a hiking trip anytime I want. But I knew I was giving up the flexibility of a single lifestyle when I made my decision to settle down. It’s something I’m at peace with because I’m fulfilled in other ways. Just be ready to choose what you want in life and be aware that there may be difficult choices to make along the way. When you have decided on what you want, try not to look back. You’re pursuing this life path rather than another one for a reason.

  • You are your own greatest limit. Many, like Anne Marie Slaughter, will say you can’t have it all. While she brings up some perfectly valid points in her argument, her work-life balance may not look the same as someone else’s. When we listen to others telling us we “cant” before trying ourselves, we inadvertently limit ourselves. For example, you’ve probably heard plenty of people say you can’t be a full-time student and work full-time. I’ve been doing it for the past year, and while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, I know that with lots of planning ahead and communication with your workplace, it is manageable.

Many others have done it before because they don’t have a choice, especially with student loans. Had I listened to those who said I couldn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am now: successfully wrapping up an invaluable fellowship while also completing my graduate program. But if I had listened to those who said it would be too much, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m not saying to take on more than you can handle. But do be aware that you can easily limit yourself just because you haven’t tried something yet. Whether it’s working and starting school or having a family, others have done it before. You are capable of more than you think. It will be challenging and may require personal sacrifice along the way. But there’s no reason why you can’t pursue the work-life balance you want to achieve.

One of the most important things to remember about managing your work-life balance, especially as a millennial, is that it is completely your own. In fact, it’s less about managing your work-life balance and more about defining it than anything else. Regardless of what the research or advanced professionals say, no one else can define it for you.


For more reading about millennials in public service, check out this weekly GovLoop series, First 5: Advice from millennial to millennial

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