In a culture where "work-life balance" is a major buzz phrase, it's easy to get caught up in popular misconceptions. Work-life balance, after all, can often seem like a fantasy realm you can only gain access to with a super-secret password. Top it off with more than 1 million Instagram posts tagged with #worklifebalance, and you've got myths and illusions galore.
Myth #1: It looks the same every day.
Many people become preoccupied by the glossiness of the term "balance," thinking work and life should be executed in the same manner every day—but this is false.
"Life and work are busy, messy and interesting," notes Cohen. "Assuming anything will look the same every day will lead to frustration and [overworking] to accomplish something that is not attainable."
The key is to approach each day with flexibility. When you welcome daily adjustments, you'll empower yourself to respond to the day's unique tasks.
Myth #2: Your professional and personal lives can't overlap.
Another misconception is that work-life balance puts work and life in separate boxes. True or false?
This is actually a trick question; the reality is that it varies from person to person. "Some people prefer delineated boundaries between their professional and personal lives, [while] others want work and life to be fully integrated," says Cohen. "Most of us are somewhere in between."
The main takeaway? There are multiple ways to practice work-life balance. So, instead of focusing on the literal act of compartmentalization, start by defining what your ideal relationship with work looks like. From there, you can develop the appropriate boundaries and boxes for your needs.
Myth #3: It's a one-time achievement.
Like weight loss and self-esteem, work-life balance is often perceived as a single destination with a sparkly "finish line." In reality, it's the exact opposite. "Work-life balance is a lifelong journey," explains Cohen. "You never get to a place that is 'work-life balance' and finish, because you are likely living a full, interesting [and] complicated life."
Life is an ever-changing experience full of new and exciting opportunities. If you want to keep your wheels on the road, you'll need to constantly shift gears. This includes regularly assessing—and changing—how you approach all areas of life.
Myth #4: You can't work long hours.
False. As mentioned earlier, welcoming the fluid nature of each day is vital
The key is recognizing there is a time and a place for this type of work flow. "In the short term, [hustling] might be beneficial and needed for specific projects," Cohen shares. "But that pace and intensity [likely won't be] sustainable. Knowing how to manage your energy, attention and focus over the long-term [is what] will allow you to have a productive career."
Myth #5: Self-care is an optional part of work-life balance.
Since self-care involves putting oneself first, it can feel like it can dampen the work-life flow. But the truth is that work-life balance can't thrive without focusing on you, your mental health and your happiness on a regular basis.
In fact, according to Cohen, learning how to practice self-care is exactly what will fuel a long and sustainable career. "Self-care is about making choices that refresh and re-energize you," she says. "You and your energy are the most important resources for effectiveness."
As you navigate the waters of work-life balance, be mindful of what others say it "should" look like. Carefully evaluate these concepts before applying them to yourself. By approaching each one with a realistic mindset, you'll be more likely to stay afloat in the waves of life.