Myths & Truths: From Work/Life to Dimensions of Life


By Lisa Slayton; part seven of a series. Reprinted from The Wholeness Journey.

MYTH #6: I can (or it is possible to) achieve work/life balance if I am clear on my calling.

This past weekend I spent two days becoming certified as a coach for the Designing Your Life (DYL) process with Bill Burnett. Leveraging the principles of Design Thinking – Accept, Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test – Bill and his co-author Dave Evans have taken their wildly popular class for Stanford Design School students and developed an accessible and practical set of tools and resources to help you, well, Design Your Life.

In their work, they us the language of “Dysfunctional Belief” and “Re-Frame” (rather than Myth and Truth) to describe the many ways we keep ourselves stuck in patterns of thinking and working that are at best self-limiting and at worst paralyzing. The myth, or dysfunctional belief, around work/life balance was an important one that we tackled early in the certification process because it is so prevalent and enculturated in our thinking and habits. When I hear the phrase work/life balance, the visual image for me is something called a bongo board – it is an old toy that requires a great deal of tension and strength to keep it perfectly level. But no matter how strong you are, eventually you fall off. Even for the most skilled, it is not sustainable over the long haul. The same is true for the myth of work/life balance- we may think we have it perfectly aligned, but sooner or later, something happens that throws our carefully constructed system out of whack.

TRUTH #6: I can find healthy rhythms of work, love, play and health for different seasons of life when I understand how my calling plays out in each of these 4 areas.

Evans and Burnett contend that work/life is a false dichotomy and that our lives actually have (at least) four dimensions that need to be considered:

  • Love (relationships, family)
  • Work
  • Play
  • Health

Work is actually a part of life, so thinking of these things as distinct and separate leaves us with a binary choice, a false dichotomy, that creates a no-win situation for us.

When we break this into the four categories, we can now begin to assess more clearly how we are doing on this by using the DYL “Balance Dashboard” and, as honestly as possible, giving ourselves a ranking from zero ( I have none of this in my life) to five, “full” (I am committing time and energy to this intentionally).

So, for example 45-year-old woman re-entering the paid workforce might have a Balance dashboard that looks like this:

·      Love: 3.5 – My kids are grown and out of the house, while I still want to be available to them, they require much less of my time and energy. Want to invest in my marriage intentionally during this new season and spend more time with close friends who also have more time.

·      Work: 4.5 – While I have back-burnered my career while my kids were at home, I am now ready to re-engage in the paid workforce. I know that it will take me some time to get re-acclimated to the work world, and I may have to invest in developing some new competencies that make me more marketable.

·      Play: 2.5 – While I love to do fun stuff, I know for this next 12-18 months, I will have a bit less “play time” as I ramp up my work opportunities.

·      Health: 4.0 – My health is extremely important to me so I will ensure I have enough time to work out or exercise every day and prepare healthy meals for my husband and me.

The dashboard offers a place to assess where you are currently and where you would like to move and then define a few incremental steps that would move you towards the “full’ end of the scale.

This is a far wiser, and more nuance approach as you give yourself permission to choose in each of these four important parts of every human life how you will best spend your energy and time for this season (not forever).

When we consider our calling and understand that calling transcends all four of these categories, we can let go of the myth that any one of the four define us. Rather, we know that who we are and what we believe can be integrated and brought in service to any and all of these four dimensions of our human existence in the world. This is the coherent – the tamim – life.

Next time, I will close this series with a reflections post and give you a sneak preview of the new series launching next.

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