Liz Reusswig

Work Life Balance is a Unicorn

By: Liz Reusswig | August 30, 2017 | 

Work Life Balance is a UnicornI’ve been contemplating the idea of work-life balance a lot lately.

And there’s a good chance, so have you.

Gini Dietrich sent me down this rabbit hole with her post on how 70 percent of us hate our jobs.

Well, not me…I’m firmly in the 30 percent who love their jobs!

In fact, I’d venture to say that the entire Spin Sucks team is 100 percent in the 30 percent.

Right, team?

But, loving your work isn’t always contemporaneous with balance.

I’m going to tell you a secret…I’m writing this post at 12:14 a.m.

No one is making me work at midnight.

And, no one I work with, especially Gini, would ever encourage me to work at midnight.

So then, why am I working in the middle of the night?

Simply, I’m not sleepy and I felt like working.

Does this mean my work life balance is unbalanced?

I don’t think so.

What I do think is work life balance is like a unicorn—it’s a mythical creature we’ll never catch.

The PR Dream Team Weighs in on Work Life Balance

Here are some of the comments from the PR Dream Team on how they try to catch the work-life balance unicorn:

Corina Manea had some great tips:

For me it’s all about finding time for myself, whether it’s for reading, gym time, or simply be.

Tips: Schedule time in your week for yourself and no matter what keep at it.

In time you’ll see the results: More productive at work, more creative, happier.

Unplugging is one way for Aimee West:

I try to have one day usually Sunday where I don’t do any social media. For myself or others.

I also put my phone away during dinner.

Even though now it is just my husband and me (we’re empty nesters), we still try to just talk and reconnect.

Paula Kiger asked me to, “Let me know when you find it!”

And my favorite response came from Bob Schrichte,

I bought a Life Alert bracelet, so when I get one, I’ll be alerted!

Thanks Bob, I’m still cleaning coffee out of my keyboard!

Millennials Killed the Work Life Balance Unicorn

A recent New York Times article with Erika Nardini set off a maelstrom of debate about work life balance when she shared her unique interview style,

I’ll text you about something at 9 p.m. or 11 a.m. on a Sunday just to see how fast you’ll respond.

Her maximum acceptable response time?

Three hours…on the weekend.

She went on to clarify her statement,

It’s not that I’m going to bug you all weekend if you work for me, but I want you to be responsive.

I think about work all the time.

Other people don’t have to be working all the time, but I want people who are also always thinking.

Huh, always thinking?

Like about what outrageous thing you might say in an interview?

Or is it outrageous?

Ms. Nardini is CEO of Barstool Sports, Inc., the “satirical sports and men’s lifestyle blog.”

The company’s target demographic and probably most of the employees are millennials.

Millennials aren’t looking for work life balance.

They want to integrate their work and life and that doesn’t necessarily include traditional ideas about what’s work time and personal time.

Remember the Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey?

Her quaint and privileged comment, “What is a week end?” made us all chuckle.

But hey, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, the times they are still a-changin’!

It Really is About Integration, Not Balance

A while back, a good friend connected me with the super-smart, Stew Friedman, founding director of the Wharton School’s Leadership Programs and its Work/Life Integration Project.

He also founded Total Leadership which “is a proven method for producing sustainable change in all parts of life that can practiced by individuals, groups, or organizations.”

In a nutshell, the program has four bubbles, Work, Life, Community, and Self.

Instead of “balancing” each of you assign a percentage value to each and then show how they integrate with each other.

Honestly, it’s kind of like a PESO model for your life!

This is what mine looks like:

work life balance

Stew’s recent book, Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life is chock full of useful information about work life integration and smart ways to apply these skills.

In the book, he interviewed and researched some pretty amazing people, including Sheryl Sandberg, Michelle Obama, and Bruce Springsteen.

It’s a great read for their stories alone.

The idea of work-life integration rings true to me.

Work life balance implies you can only have one or the other at any given time.

Work-life integration allows me to work at midnight and still incorporate parts of the other bubbles as I want.

And maybe, by integrating the important aspects of our lives, we can stop chasing the unicorn and start to really enjoy the ride!

I’m looking forward to your thoughts and comments.

About Liz Reusswig

Liz Reusswig is the owner of EMR Strategies, a small business consulting firm, and is the founder/owner of Kids Theatre News, an informational website for the theatre community. She loves helping people discover the power of social media and online engagement. Liz lives in Pennsylvania with her hydrogeologist husband, their two theatre kids, and loyal dog, Coco.

  • KensViews

    Great post. I think a key thing to consider as one shifts from “work-life balance” to “work-life integration” is “What works for me?” If it’s working at the office until 3, and then going to your child’s soccer match, having dinner with the family, and then working from 8 to 10, then do it. What we must remember is the importance of focusing, being present, and being in the moment. If you’re in the middle of a hike with your family, and busy answering client emails, who’s really winning? I would propose not your family, not you, and not your client, because you’re not focusing. And even though we have the technology to multi-task, our brains are not wired that way. When we uni-task, when we really focus is when we can create a satisfactory balance.

    • Liz Reusswig

      Exactly, @KensViews:disqus – The unicorn is now the uni-task! 🙂

    • So much yes to this entire comment Ken!

  • Dawn Buford

    I rolled my eyes so hard at Ms. Nardini’s comments that I almost passed out. Let’s revisit with her in about 30 years and see how that all worked out. Sigh. Work life balance means something different to everyone. Ken is right. Focus on one thing at a time. Make rules for yourself that work for you and your family and stick to them. Make your own choices that will lead you to a path of happiness and fulfillment.

    • Howie Goldfarb

      The millennial thing is a fad/cottage industry. Offer a millennial a cubical and a solid salary and safety vs a higher but riskier contract for a year….not many contracts will be written. ‘Oh but they all want to work remotely and flit from job to job’. Well not really.

      So it seems integrate is the new term for balance because if you fail to integrate properly you are unbalanced. I mean unintegrated.

      • Liz Reusswig

        Those dang kids! Maybe it’s just we older folks who are unbalanced? LOL

    • Liz Reusswig

      @dbuford:disqus – that was my first feeling, too. However, it really does seem like there’s a shift in how younger employees view it – many really do see their work life not as a separate part of their life, but as an integrated part and don’t seem to mind this mentality. It will be very interesting to see how it plays out.

    • KensViews

      It’s all about choice. Once we accept that we have choice in our lives, our happiness, our satisfaction, we actually make those choices, and benefit from doing so!

      • Liz Reusswig


  • Debbie Johnson

    I gave up on the idea of “balance” and shifted my focus to “integration.” It works well for me. I’m more productive and efficient with my time when working. I have more time for reading and writing outside of work. I also find that integration allows me to take advantage of the times when my energy level is higher, so I get more done as a result. But a key component to this was learning to say no. If a request doesn’t get me to my goals, personal or professional, I decline it. But that’s probably another post for another day.

    • Liz Reusswig

      That’s terrific, @disqus_lGY1lBTB8i:disqus! I’m still in the early stages but definitely feel it’s a more productive and enjoyable approach. With “balance” I’ve always felt I’m letting someone down. I love the idea of exploring “just say no” as an important part of integration.

      • Debbie Johnson

        It’s really been life changing in a good way for me.

    • KensViews

      Such wisdom! And it sounds like you’re reaping the benefits!

      • Debbie Johnson

        Using the “does this get me to my goals?” framework makes it really simple. And it frees up my time to focus on tasks and opportunities that will get me to my goals.

  • Howie Goldfarb

    Life is a pie. You can allocate pieces of your time to various endeavors. To focus and excel in one area means shorting another area. I find people tend to focus and excel in one area. Many driven wealthy people have no personal life. It is only unbalanced if they are unhappy and always mentioning other things they prefer to do. Same with love, social life, family etc. I am underemployed and get to enjoy things with my kids that most people can’t. And when I become more fully employed time with them will be reduced. Balance is personal and subjective as much as it is objective (meaning if I interviewed you would I come away thinking yes Liz is in balance).

    • Liz Reusswig

      Thanks, @disqus_1ZwAiCE1qU:disqus – you had me at PIE! 😉

    • Have you read Relentless Howie? He speaks to this very fact. You can only be REALLY, REALLY good at one thing. So Dwayne Wade, he’s great at basketball. That doesn’t mean he sucks at other parts of his life, it just means basketball comes first, and it needs to to be as good as he is.

      • KensViews

        From my training, and most of all my work, in executive coaching, people who have more balance in key areas of life (Career, Leadership, Intimate Relationships, Health/Aging, Family/Friends, Recreation, Finance, and so forth), tend to report greater feelings of satisfaction, fulfillment and contentment. So yes, makes sense to be good at one or a few things. And if you have big differences between those areas, something is missing.

    • KensViews

      In my experience (and per my comment below) those who strive to achieve greater balance are more satisfied. It’s not about all of them being at the same exact level, but if your satisfaction levels in a few areas are greatly lower than others, something’s missing.

  • Love this. Work-life balance is also super personal. As a work-from-home Dad, I feel I’ve achieved a lot of balance in my life. But that’s me. Some people would crave more integration with their peers and office mates, or more of a social life. My balance isn’t someone else’s balance. My wife’s balance isn’t my balance, and vice versa. Maybe sports are your thing. Writing. Something creative. Maybe you have sick parents or relatives to care for. Whatever is going on in “your” life, balance is about being happy, IMO. Working until 1 am, or getting up early to take your son to a hockey game… no one is forcing this on me. When I start being dissatisfied or regretful, then it may be time to reassess!

    • Liz Reusswig

      Absolutely…it is about integrating all the things that are important (work, hockey, howling at the moon, whatever!) and being content that it might look different than the norm.

  • To @disqus_1ZwAiCE1qU:disqus ‘s point: Balance/Integration, what ever you want to call it is personal. What looks like balance to me, probably looks completely out of whack to someone else. Likewise, the fact that you have a job which allows you to work at midnight, so you can travel, spend time with the kids, etc. during other times is actually balance. It’s all in context.

    From my perspective however, we look at it the wrong way. Balance doesn’t actually exist to be successful at anything in life, but that doesn’t mean you work all the time, quite the opposite. If you take sport success for example. The truly successful athletes are completely unbalanced people (even at the level I compete, one would look and say I’m unbalanced….ok, well I am “unbalanced,” but I mean my life). You can’t be “balanced” as it’s traditionally described to be successful. You have to be relentless at something, and to drive at that level excludes balance in many ways. But that doesn’t mean you just push, drive, and practice your sport all the time. Because things like rest and sleep are crucial elements of your success. They have to be part of what you do. They are part of your goal. Likewise, in your professional life, you can’t just work all the time. Downtime, offtime, rest, these are important to success in your career. They also are required for your goal.

    Life is all about choices. Choose the things that make up your life, prioritize them based on your goals, and realize when you give more to one, you take away from another. And that equilibrium might shift and sway based on needs, life stage, goals. That’s ok. Just realize, where you put your time and energy determines your success.

    • Liz Reusswig

      Me…sitting here biting my tongue! 😉

    • I totally agree. If you feel trapped, sometimes that’s just because you aren’t sure what choices to make. This may sound easy or obvious, but it’s why I constantly have to reassess/reprioritize my goals. Focus on family. Focus on fitness and health. Focus on work. Focus on creativity. Very rarely can one hold the top spot, so you have to make a choice.

      For instance, @laura_petrolino:disqus is making a choice by not making a “real” comment on my passive voice post ( The wrong choice, but it’s a choice only she can make. Both her, and my, happiness is at stake… where will we strike the balance?

      And no, not having a voice is not an excuse for not commenting on passive or active voice…

  • To @laura_petrolino:disqus’s point, it’s all about choices. Whether you do or don’t do something it’s your choice. We got used to blaming everyone around us, but ourselves for our lives, jobs, lifestyle, etc. We forgot the only person truly responsible for our happiness and success: Ourselves.

    We struggle so much to fit in, following others’ rules, we forget we have one chance here on Earth and we should make the best of it.

    Work is not something we do to receive compensation, it’s part of our life. Grocery shopping isn’t just something we do to prepare dinner, it’s part of our life. Instead of seeing some of the things we do as chores, maybe focus on putting in some extra effort and doing them better. And if it’s not working, have the guts to walk away. But do so consciously.

    It is your choice.

    Every time I hear a talk about work-life balance I want to scream: It’s your life period. Whether you focus more on something and less on something else, it’s entirely up to you. Just decide.

    Until a few months ago, I was stressed I “could not find” time in my day to work out. It only took a look at my daily habits, daily schedule, and a decision to change something. The result: I now surprisingly have time for everything I want to do in a day.

    Great post, Liz!

    To your point, we should stop chasing other people’s ideas of happiness, integration, success, and live our own.

    • KensViews

      Wow, spoken as a coach! And a trend in coaching that I’m using more and more is getting my clients away from “fixing” their problems, and thinking more and more about the joy they’ll get, how great it will feel, when they’ve achieved their goals, whatever those goal are. That kind of positivity is proven highly effective.

    • Liz Reusswig

      That’s awesome & thank you, Corina! <3

  • Anna Wagner

    As a millennial myself, I find the argument between “work/life balance” and “work/life integration” a bit odd and it often just seems like a way of saying that we should be thinking about work all the time, which turns me off. Some jobs may demand that, like farming where it’s a 24/7 job, but most just don’t and you should be able to take time to yourself and have your own life.

    That said, when you get work done can be a matter of preference. I often like working from home being of the flexibility it gives me to work out a bit later in the morning and get some housework done during the day. It may mean I also work a bit later in the day, but I sometimes feel better at the end of the day because I get to fit everything else in. Other days I prefer to be in the office because my work/life is more segregated that way and sometimes that’s nicer.

    • Liz Reusswig

      Thanks for commenting, Anna. I lean more toward integration because, as you point out, it allows for flexibility in how we spend our time. To me, balance feels like our time has to be too stringently defined and evenly distributed. Life just isn’t like that anymore, if it ever was!