UW Graduate School

April 28, 2017

Work-Life Balance? For Real?


The aspiration of “work-life balance” is often recommended in our everyday lives, but this approach can be met with a sense of dread rather than a sense of hope. Really though, when the demands of work and life seem to be unending, how can we possibly keep it all in “balance”? This can feel so true, especially if the popular analogy to life balance–that of tipping scales–feels all together inaccurate. In actuality, most of us have more than one set of “scales” in our lives (e.g. graduate school, additional jobs on or off campus, family and community commitments, self-care, etc.), and they can often feel like they are in competition with each another. Below are some possible ways to rethink how we might approach working towards work-life integration rather than “balance.”

Integration.  Some have talked about “work-life integration.” The idea is that a life worth living is better served if your passions and life commitments are incorporated or expressed in your daily work. This is not to say that we don’t have obligations that we just plain have to do. But this perspective does however allow us to ask ourselves, “During any given work week, do I have opportunities to feed my passions and core commitments in some way?”

Separation.  That said, sometimes what refuels you is practicing setting clear boundaries between work and play or being able to volunteer with community groups or organizations that have nothing to do with graduate school work or a job. These are important projects too and—as David Whyte would say—are still integrated in that you are stoking your own fires in service to your work and your engagement in your life.

Reflection.  How do you spend your days? Your weeks? Are you happy with your personal mix of commitments and activities?  Is the mix serving you and contributing to your ability to be your best self –whether at work or at home with friends and family? Many of us need to do a mental “check-in” on these questions every few months or so, and when necessary, adjust the mix.

We hope that these strategies for work-life integration are useful to you.  Also, please let us know if you have other tips or strategies, and we’ll share them out!


Kelly, Jaye, and Ziyan


Thanks to Professor Carolyn Allen’s class of first year doctoral students in English, who inspired this reflection.

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