Illustration: Ashley Siebels
I was drowning in work.
I was convinced this was because my job was demanding, but as I shuffled my responsibilities around, switched jobs, and ultimately became a freelancer so I could call my own shots, I was still drowning in work.
It finally caught up to me that it’s me. I have a tendency to drown myself in work.
The problem is not the job
One of the reasons why work-life balance is hard is because we attribute the problem to our environment when it’s us.
I am the problem.
I adore making my clients happy. “Dushka, your work was incredible.” “Dushka, we would not have survived without you.”
This is primal. Me, a kid, making someone I love proud. Good girl.
What can get in the way of work-life balance is that approval often matters more than the balance I claim I want.
I am ambitious and want to do great things, and as soon as a project is done, I’m hungry for the next one. I want hard work, and I want to push myself, test myself. In addition, I want to learn.
Sometimes work-life balance is hard because there is a discrepancy between what I say I want and what I really, truly want. I’m sending everyone mixed signals, including myself.
I don’t know what I want. I want conflicting things; I want everything.
My life is constantly changing. If a friend is visiting from out of town, I want to work less. If I happen to be particularly inspired, I want to work more. And if a family member needs me, I don’t want to have to worry about work at all.
Our definition of work-life balance is a moving target
It means different things to me depending on where my life is at.
What is work-life balance, anyway? Does it mean I get to go home every day when the clock strikes 5 p.m.? Does it mean that I work hard for a few weeks and then take a long weekend off? Do I want daily balance, or do I want things to balance out over the course of a few weeks, even months?
Sometimes work life balance is hard because my demands on it are a poor fit in relation to the job that I am in.
Work-life balance can be hard if you believe that the only way to do something well is to do it yourself. This means you can never delegate, and as such you are not scalable. Your ego gets in the way of you being free, and it gets in the way of the growth of everyone who works for you.
Work-life balance can be hard if you are worried someone else can do your job better than you. Then you live in a constant state of suspicion and paranoia and never allow yourself to step away. Your fear is calling the shots, not your lifestyle ambitions.
We’re more worried about looking good than doing good work
If you want to make sure everyone sees you are the last one to leave, if you want to make sure everyone is a witness to you being the first person in the next morning, what others think of you has more weight than your aspirations of getting home in time for dinner.
My boss assures me that employees come first, that people are the most important thing, yet I don’t see him telling me it’s time to go home after lunch because I worked really late the night before.
Wait a minute. Why should my work life balance be the company’s problem, in particular if I’ve already identified that my needs are ever-changing? How can I expect someone else to stay on top of that? The only person responsible for me is me.
Work-life balance can be hard because blame is easier and much more comfortable than accountability.
This article originally appeared on Quora.