Finding Life Work Balance Through Community

By Sue Aiken

"Be Happy While You're Living…..For You're A Long Time Dead!"
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Scottish Proverb


It would be nice if we could welcome our clients, hear their complaints and send them out with a prescription for happiness. Maybe if we lived in Never-Never Land with Peter Pan! Rather, we welcome clients, listen to their concerns and have the intention of providing tools, resources, creative ideas and alternatives and generally engaging them in a dialogue toward self discovery.

Two growing client concerns are a quest for life work balance and for a sense of community. For purposes here, life work balance is the desired relationship between work and other life activities. It could be impacted by quality of life values, the degree of separation between one's work and other parts of life, how each supports the other and what each contributes to the holistic quality of life. Community is a supportive association or group to which one belongs. It can be a literal place or a virtual one and take many forms. Most likely, the clients your serve in your private practice could include:

  • The single father who is both young in age and in his career, struggles to make ends meet. He feels overwhelmed and isolated.
  • The dual career couple in their 40's with two young children and aging parents. They struggle to manage it all and often feel guilty as a result.
  • A 50 plus man, who has worked for others his entire life, missed many of his kids' soccer games and recitals, and now has two grandkids with stressed parents. He wants more control of his time and life so he can be available to help.

We could add health issues, environmental concerns, and economic frustrations – all that life deals us unexpectedly. Add in the predictable markers such as aging, marriage, death, births, graduations, vacations, and relatives' visits – life! In the scenarios above, at least three generations face issues of balance in their lives.

Marble as Metaphor for Life Work

If one studies designs meticulously cut from marble in palaces and temples in India, we see open but intricate and interlocking patterns. These patterns or designs could serve as a metaphor for the intricacies in the ongoing relationship between our work and our life as a whole. This relationship is further complicated by our individual varying needs at different points of our life. Our focus here is on these questions only:

  • Can where and how we live contribute to life work balance? Or..
  • Does where we live contribute to the stress from lack of balance? And…
  • Can or does community impact this balance?

Career practitioners can use a variety of methods, including the following, to help the client focus on the stated issues.

Interview questions to help clients focus might include asking them to consider whether they live to work or work to live. What do they need and want from work? How would they want to answer these questions versus how they experience their reality? How does their living environment support or detract from their work?

In a visualization or written exercise, ask how much time they spend each day commuting? How do they commute? Are they alone in their car, in a carpool, reading on public transportation, bicycling or walking to work? Are they able to work part time from a home office each week? Do they feel isolated while working at home? Is there a social network in their home community? Are others available to pick up a child from school or nurse a sick pet or check on grandma once a day? Are they part of a collaborative community with support systems?

Consider alternative solutions and open their eyes to possibilities that could alter the balance between work life and personal life with the assistance of community. Brainstorm the following options with clients:

  1. Check out co-housing communities. Visit several and ask questions such as: How would the community support them in their life? Would it add ease or stress to one's life? Would it add to the demands of life or energize it?
  2. Learn about live/work spaces such as in Oakland, California. What are the rules? What is the noise level of closer living? How would this serve your life?
  3. Visit your city's planning department to see what already exists or will be developed such as in downtown Los Angeles. Re-vitalization and repurposing of formerly run down areas and buildings have led to apartments and condos located near jobs, stores and public transportation.
  4. Consider companies that offer flex time or home based technology encouraging working anywhere, anytime. Research home based businesses, consulting, coaching, or part time employment.

Exercises to assist your clients should be varied to appeal to diversity of needs.

1. Visualization of their ideal live/work environment and desired life work relationship

2. Values clarification involving identifying needs and wants around why they work and what they need and want from it. Special emphasis should be placed on their need for balance and for community, if any.

3. Recall all communities they have experienced in their life and review the pros and cons as they remember them. Could be school, clubs, church, teams, neighborhoods, associations, circle of friends, support groups and virtual groups.

4. What is one thing they can do today to help make their vision a reality? Write it down along with a completion time.

I invite you to test out some of the questions and exercises with your clients. As career counselors, we listen to tough life issues expressed across all working generations. There may never be a better time to seek out the 21st century version of "community" to meet the growing and diverse needs of a workforce hungry for some degree of balance in their life.


Official Guide to the City of Oakland Live/Work Building Code: Live/Work in Plain English. Retrieved 1/22/08 : www.live-work.com/plainenglish-ws

Los Angeles Downtown Revitalization: http://www.downtownnews.com/; http://www.lacity.org/

Co-housing information: http://www.cohousing.org/


Sue Aiken, MA, NCC, MCC lives in an intentional community, Oak Creek Commons Co-housing on the California Central Coast, where consensus building is the process used to make decisions. Since 1982, Sue has had a private practice as part of her professional portfolio, working primarily with lawyers in transition. Other client groups include re-entry women, health professionals and those seeking meaning in their work. After serving for 13 years as chair of the Career Development Program at John F. KennedyUniversity, Sue is now a career coach with Career Development Alliance providing distance coaching services via email and telephone.

Sue was the Associate Editor for the Independent Department of Career Convergence, a member of the Public Relations committee of NCDA and chair of the board of the California Registry for Professional Career Counselors. She can be reached at saiken001@charter.net

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