The Case for an Imbalanced Life

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Samantha Ettus, author of “The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe for Success and Satisfaction” has caused a lot of controversy among working and stay-at-home moms.

Ettus found that the happiest moms are the ones who have seven main areas of focus — or “slices” — in their life: career, health, relationship, children, community, friends and hobbies. She advocates that women need to give themselves permission to participate in all of these slices. While it doesn’t matter how much time is spent in each slice, some time must be devoted to each of the seven in order to feel fulfilled.

After hearing Ettus speak at the S.H.E. Summit and listening to her espouse the virtues of a balanced life, I couldn’t help but shake my head in disagreement.

First, balance doesn’t exist. An artificially created pie structure is laughable to a new mom, an ER doctor, or an entrepreneur. At different phases of life, various priorities emerge. It’s appropriate to focus on one or two areas at a time, especially during a stressful or sleepless period.

Second, seven slices are not the key to happiness. I personally know many professionals who find the greatest meaning in throwing themselves completely into their work. They consider carving out time for friends or going to the gym a nuisance and a dilution of their purpose on earth.

Similarly, there are individuals who are not career-oriented and find happiness in their interpersonal relationships. Ettus has reportedly received hate mail and criticism from stay-at-home moms who say they have found fulfilling lives without investing time in a career. However, in multiple interviews, Ettus rejects this claim.

She told the New York Post, “I have yet to meet a woman who is completely fulfilled without keeping up her career. There are plenty of women who claim to be happy without a career, but two glasses of chardonnay in, you will find a well of dissatisfaction. Where you see a woman who is not in an independent pursuit of her own life goals, you’ll likely find an anxious child, an over-perfected home, a marriage out of balance and a school administrator who wishes this woman would get a job.”

She continued, “Would you ever say someone who spends every moment at the office has a good and satisfying life? A woman who spends every moment doting on her family has an equally unbalanced life.”

I would agree that both a professional who devotes all of her time to work and a stay-at-home-mom lead an imbalanced life. But an imbalanced life does not necessarily translate into an unhappy life. Many people find joy and fulfillment in the lopsidedness of spending more time on things that matter to them. Ettus’ seven slices – career, health, relationship, children, community, friends and hobbies – sound like a laundry list that needs to get checked off and not a list that leads to pleasure. A career is not for everyone. A romantic relationship is not for everyone. Children? Certainly not for everyone.

Disproportion is what leads to satisfaction. Throwing yourself into one or two areas of focus at a time leads to greater impact. When you get a promotion, when you make a difference in your community, when you develop a skill or a hobby – that’s what yields happiness. By spreading yourself too thin, you risk feeling subpar at everything.

Ettus has created a model that is easily digestible by the masses. However, it is an unrealistic portrayal of life for the modern woman. Having an evenly balanced scale is a nice image, but isn’t practical or even ideal for many people. As we navigate the different stages in our personal lives and our careers, it is up to us to determine what areas deserve more attention and what can be put on the back burner.

2 Comments

  1. Ira Krawitz

    Astute observations. Like “Tiger Mom” and other manuals of motherhood and life, the book was written by a woman who has taken only one slice of the pie, namely “shallow perception for a quick buck” and focused on it. I imagine she has limited joy from several other sections herself.

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