Zen garden in sand

What is Work/Life Harmony?

The other day, my daughter caught a cold. As happens with all children, this virus snuck up on her out of the blue, striking around 10 am on a Tuesday, when I was smack-dab in between two meetings. And as I watched her nose dripping and listened to her coughing- it’s very cute when a 17-month-old child coughs, aside from that whole free-flowing snotty illness thing- I rearranged my work week to fit in the tending time. I sent a few emails asking for meeting reschedules, grabbed some oranges, put on the kiddie movies, and settled in for a few days. For me, this is a perfect example of achieving Work/Life Harmony.

Why is it different from “Work/Life Balance”?

Work/Life Balance is a term that has been used quite often in our day and age to describe the basic ability of people to manage their families, work, and social lives. In other words, they are more or less balanced. Seems pretty straightforward on the surface, and indeed it’s not a bad goal, in and of itself.

But what happens when something gets even slightly skewed? What happens when your child catches a cold in the middle of the work week? Bam! There goes that balance. It’s at this point when you start to realize that separating “work” out from “life” means that it’s now an either/or situation, in which something’s gotta give.

So I’ve come to believe that a more sustainable way to approach our lives is Work/Life Harmony. This concept, as outlined by social psychologist Ellen Langer, among others, prescribes something deeper and more mindful than a zero-sum balance. It’s right there: Harmony. Your work, home, community, and self are in alignment, to the extent that a hit in one area doesn’t throw the rest completely off. These four spheres are your life, rather than your work with the “rest of your life” hanging on at the other end of the see-saw.

How to Accomplish It?

Harmony begins with framing out your life into four general spheres, so that each can be explored equally:

  • Work
  • Home
  • Community
  • Self

Ideally, each should receive the same kind of attention from you, as this is the first step toward Harmony. If your Self realm is seriously lacking- meaning you don’t take the time to get that massage or watch that football game, or your Home life is a wreck- you forgot your wife’s birthday again or didn’t show up to your daughter’s dance recital, then these particular spheres would be the first place to start your self-examination. In the end, each sphere of your life should easily support and compliment the others, so that there is a natural joy, ease, and flow between them.

I chose to work from home years ago, well before my daughter was born. As it turns out, it was a great choice for me- and I know it doesn’t work for everyone, so I’m not suggesting it as a blanket panacea- because it allows for a great deal of flexibility in child rearing. The work I do contributes materially every day to my Community, and allows me a good deal of personal Self time to boot. The thing is, it may seem easy to say, well, that’s easy for you to say. But we must all work toward this Harmony, every day, in order to achieve it, and I’m no exception.

The Need to Deeply Examine Your Life with Integrity

To work toward Harmony, every day, we must all “stop juggling and start integrating.” If elements of your life are just not working from the perspective of making enough time for them or sacrificing something really important (because seriously, how often are you going to be able to watch your kid play the third cow in the Nativity play?), then these are the things to begin experimenting with. It’s great to make a million dollars a year, if that’s what you want to achieve, but it’s better when you can do it and see your kid dressed up as a cow.

The first thing to do is examine your life, with integrity. Begin with listing out the parameters of your inquiry for each of the four spheres:

  • What do you really want to accomplish?
  • What can each area of your life, and the people in it, contribute to the others?
  • What (and who) truly matters? What will be your legacy in the world?
  • What boundaries can be established/re-established to make things flow better?
  • Where are the opportunities to weave together elements from each sphere of your life?

When you have established these parameters, you can do a little experimenting. Here are some examples, which are general and can be modified to your particular situation.

  1. Try spending, for example, one less hour a week at work, or one day a week telecommuting, and see what changes the extra time can have for your personal and family life.
  2. Bring a volunteer program to your workplace if you want to integrate more community in your life. Think about how to truly integrate it, so that you’re working with more than a once-a-year clean-up project.
  3. Reframe your work in terms of your passions- what really makes you want to do it- and then talk with your family about why it makes you passionate. Ask them more often about their passions.
  4. Create a culture of innovation in your life. Try doing something differently, such as establishing a new way of approaching a problem by inviting loved ones to contribute to the solution, or switching up a simple daily routine.
  5. Involve your children in your legacy building. They will motivate you like nothing else will.

If any of these smaller experiments don’t work, you’re really not out too much. But if these do work, you’re that much closer to Harmony in your life, and you can start to find other ways to dig deeper.

My search for Harmony, like everyone’s, involved this close examination. People who did not serve my overall goals began to drift away, which made room for those that do. This is likely the hardest area of our lives to experiment with, especially if the people who aren’t helping your cause are family members. Trust me, I know this will be extremely difficult at first, but our fears cannot and should not hold us back. So this might be the best place to start with small experiments, to see if a slight shift makes the positive difference in your relationships. Nobody said you had to sever all your family and friends off and move to the Himalayas tomorrow; this process takes time- and you might find all the results you want in little ways that you didn’t even expect at first.

In time, we can all find the right people and things that bring Harmony to our Work, Home, Community, and Self. It begins with the goals of integrity for yourself, and fully integrating aspects of your life together so that no one thing takes over. For example, I’ve been able to incorporate an incredible education and vibrant community for myself through my work with No-Pay MBA, while sustaining my status as a fully-employed, yet stay-at-home single mother. As I watched endless animated movies and wiped away the snot from my daughter’s face while she started to feel better and better, I knew I had found the Harmony I was looking for, and I sincerely wish the same for you.



Hillary Strobel is a content single mother, fierce learner and teacher, ardent lover of life, and ass-kickin’ President and CEO of a Social Enterprise, The Flyways, Inc. After a long and varied career in just about every kind of Liberal Arts field imaginable, and in every type of job position- volunteer, employee, entrepreneur, non-profit worker, and freelancer- she has decided to put her money where her mouth is and marry her two deepest passions: stories and social justice. The results have surpassed her wildest expectations.

Join Hillary on April 9, 2016 for a free one-hour Work/Life Harmony webinar. Register here.