work-2005640_640I was driving down Market Street in San Francisco the other day when I spotted a young woman, clad in shorts and a tank top, riding her bicycle with her dog in tow. I winced. This practice of towing a dog alongside a moving bicycle always seemed cruel to me. Regardless of whether the dog is tired, sore, thirsty, hungry, out of breath, sick, or even injured, it has to keep going. The pace is relentless.

Maybe I empathize with these dogs so much because I’ve felt similarly at work – tethered to an out-of-control schedule determined by someone who had no idea what was involved in my work. Nod if you find yourself thinking, “me too.”

To me, work-life balance is having some semblance of control over when I work and how much I work, at least within reason. I have bills to pay and commitments to my clients to honor. I don’t need total control, but I also don’t want to feel that I can’t even pause to take a breath. I am fine with working weekends and evenings. And, I can tolerate responding to email, albeit in a limited way, when I am on vacation. I just want it to be my choice.

This is my definition of work-life balance, but it certainly isn’t the only definition, or even the right one. What does work-life balance mean to you? Do you, too, crave control? Do you want to be email-free after 8 pm and on the weekends? Do you want to be able to take time off without dreading the tsunami of work waiting your return?

The thing is that unless you define what work-life balance looks like to you in concrete, specific terms, your chances of achieving it are almost non-existent. You won’t know what adjustments you need to make in your current situation. And, you won’t know if and when you achieve it.