The Seasons of Work and Life
Work-life balance. In our world of pressing deadlines, six figure income goals and round-the-clock connection, these three little words are everywhere. Together they form a phrase that has come to represent the nirvana of the career ladder: a legendary state of being in which all of life’s commitments fall neatly into place; a perfect equilibrium between personal and professional demands. The attainment of this level of harmony is widely acknowledged as the mark of someone who’s Got It Together and, consequently, the question of how to find it has become one of the most commonly asked of our time. Google claims to have the answers, of course, with a quick search returning dozens of tips and tricks for those who seek enlightenment.
Well, it may be controversial, but Eleanor and I would like to stick a pin in that particular bubble. To us, work-life balance is a myth: at best a fantasy dreamt up by well-meaning health professionals to combat burnout, at worst a cunning corporate tactic designed to keep employees striving for the impossible dream of ‘having it all’. Imagine a seesaw, or a set of scales, or a tightrope walker. In each of these scenarios, the act of maintaining balance requires constant focus and precision - the slightest movement in either direction will break the spell; there’s no room for mistakes or surprises. Trying to apply this concept to our lives implies that it’s possible to parcel up our unique array of passions and responsibilities in separate boxes, stack them equally on opposing sides, and - perhaps with a few tweaks here and there - find that each stack conveniently weighs the same. It seems to me that this approach involves a degree of perfection and rigidity that simply can’t be applied to our messy, ever-changing lives, and an unsustainably relentless need for reshuffling that can only ever lead to overwhelm and exhaustion.
The reality is that, sometimes, we lose our balance. Our side of the seesaw comes crashing to the ground with a bump, our ingredients flow too quickly and tip the scales, we wobble on our tightrope - or even fall off completely. But that’s ok. There are times in life when one particular area calls for more of our attention - whether work, health, relationships or rest - and, instead of struggling to make space for that without jeopardising the already precarious illusion of balance, it makes more sense to lean in to whatever is the priority and try to accept the resulting bump, tip, wobble or fall with grace. It will most likely only be a temporary shift, and one that will bring greater overall contentment in the long-run as more progress will be made by giving ourselves permission to be fully present in one area instead of partly present in many. As recent thinking has shown, having a singular focus is nearly always more productive than multi-tasking.
In her book, Destination: Simple, writer and podcaster Brooke McAlary refers to this idea as ‘tilting’ - the art of constantly shifting direction and focus in alignment with our evolving priorities. This approach allows us to focus on what’s most important at any given time: unlike the notion of balance, which is almost static in character, tilting is flexible and fluid, just like life itself. It enables us to embrace movement and change, and to see our commitments as collective parts of a whole, rather than as a series of separate and conflicting demands.
Just as our energy and motivation rise and fall with the changing seasons over the course of a year (for example: winter brings quiet reflection, while spring is a time for growth), it’s also possible to take a seasonal view of individual tasks and responsibilities, in both personal and professional contexts. A work project, for example, would typically have its own winter, spring, summer and autumn - a lifecycle through which an idea is considered, created, nurtured, and brought to fruition. Similarly, at home you may experience winter during a period of ill health or financial struggle, while summer returns when everything feels positive and calm. Spring represents new beginnings and forward motion, and autumn - the most complex of seasons - can signify both culmination and loss.
By applying seasonal patterns not just to nature but to our work and lives, and not just to each calendar year but to the months and weeks in between, it’s possible to align our varied commitments and interests in a way that mirrors the ebb and flow of the natural world. If it’s spring in your work and you’re about to launch a new product or service, you know that leaning into that priority will mean you need a little more summer at home. This prepares you to ask for help with family demands, eat fresh and nourishing foods, and protect pockets of time for rest and relaxation where you can. If autumn brings unexpected life changes, try to ease into the quiet of winter in your work with kindness and compassion. Of course, it’s not always this straightforward: as an extreme example, you could experience a dual autumn in the form of important deadlines at work coinciding with a personal loss. But, at the very least, this method offers a holistic and intuitive way to manage shifting priorities without chasing the myth of perfect balance.
With A Seasonal Year, we want to show you how our slow and seasonal ethos can bring more structure and ease to both your business and your life - because, as fellow self-employed creatives, we know they’re often one and the same. We’ll help you move away from the traditional associations of work with hardship and hustle, and embrace a gentler approach that’s guided by nature instead. Enrolment is now open, and you can find out more here.
Until next month,