A Question on Work-Life Balance

     On Friday, Oct. 28, I attended a panel discussion held on campus, entitled “Women, Family and Leadership,” where four professional, working mothers spoke about what their lives have looked like in terms of balancing commitments between home and the workplace. First and foremost, I would like to thank these women, Erin Daly, Melissa Hoagland, Christine Mahan and Robyn Jameson, for taking time to share their personal stories. Experiences matter, and learning to listen well to others speak about their own experiences is important. Each of these women shared how they have managed to sustain a healthy family life raising children while still having the time and ability to fulfill personal aspirations in the workplace, sometimes through difficult compromise. This journey looked different for each family, as might be expected, and the journey has been anything but easy. While this conversation is not new to our campus by any means, it has certainly had me thinking in a new light. I’ll try to explain why.

     The idea of coming to the perfect “work-life balance” has become increasingly solidified in my mind as a myth. I think the main crux of the myth is that a life well-lived is a life free of sacrifice. As a culture fixated on the self, we have become allergic to the idea of living a life of gift, wherein there is pouring out of oneself, meaning that our life is never completely our own.

     The further question of how exactly women can fulfill their career-driven goals while simultaneously managing a household is a deeply nuanced one. As a society, we are asking questions of ourselves that our ancestors would have only dreamt of having the opportunity to ask themselves. What I mean by this is that the fact that women have a place, and a good one at that, in the workforce is a good thing. But now comes the controversial part: I am convinced that a life aimed at self-fulfillment is bound to fail. The more I think about it, the more I am realizing that every narrative of a life well lived I have ever been presented with is characterized by a certain willingness to deny the self in order to serve others better. This means that there is a different set of questions we ought to be asking ourselves. Instead of “How can I do all these things that I want to do?” perhaps a better question is this: “As I find myself in new positions of responsibility and gifting, what would it look like for me to embody sacrifice that I might always be acting in love towards those in my path?”

     I am not going to pretend to have some kind of answer to how we are supposed to live good lives as successful bosses with a child on each hip. But what I am going to propose is that we ought to embrace a narrative of sacrifice. And, please do not mistake my point, I mean this for men too. The idea that we can bring children into this world and maintain lives as though nothing has changed is simply not true. A life that is unaffected by others is a life that is shallow and callous, regardless of whether one has children. A life well lived without sacrifice really is not possible, and this is a good thing. It would be a problem if our relationships with persons in life did not have the power to change our plans. I do not know if “women still can’t have it all,” but to be honest, I am not sure that is the right question to be asking.

     Source: The Atlantic

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