The Yin and Yang of Work and Family

As we head down the path of 2018, learn how to tap into greater happiness by discovering the yin and yang of choosing both work and love.


From ancient wisdom to modern science, leading thinkers have identified the power of uncomfortable and challenging experiences. In fact, challenging and uncomfortable experiences often occur right alongside an experience that brings growth and deep satisfaction. The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu explored the yin and yang of positive and negative experiences, writing, “Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness. All can know good as good only because there is evil.”

Taking a more modern approach, positive psychologists have shown us that difficult experiences give rise to an ability to develop greater strength and attain greater life satisfaction. There are, indeed, gifts that come with experiencing the kinds of tensions that pervade the live of working parents.

Unfortunately, this wisdom too often gets forgotten in the prominent stance that is taken on work-family conflict. Our focus on eradicating the conflict between the work and family life carries with it a danger of eliminating our ability to appreciate the gifts that come with partaking in both worlds.

There is no two ways about it: keeping a foot in both worlds is challenging. In conducting a series of interviews with working parents on the psychological challenges and gifts of choosing both work and parenting, I have yet to encounter a working parent who proclaims their life to be free of challenges. They describe the struggles of finding time to accomplish important parenting and work tasks, pervasive exhaustion, and guilt, to name just a few.

Yet every interviewee has been thankful to describe the gifts that come with keeping a foot in each world. They explain that maintaining both their professional life and their engaged roles as parents offers a pathway for each world to buffer the stress in other, the opportunity for each role to contribute to positive experiences and outcomes, and an avenue to achieve greater overall life happiness. These descriptions are reflected findings from researchers suggesting that work and family life enrich each other, even in the face of work-family conflict.

As Taoists have long suggested, forces interpreted as opposing or contrary forces may actually be forces that are complementary and interconnected. Shifting our thinking to encompass a more Taoist perspective, we can see the challenges of keeping a foot in each of these worlds as both complex and challenging, but also as intensely rewarding and ultimately fulfilling.

As we enter into a new year, join me in working to make space for the yin and yang of difficult and rewarding experiences. By opening your mind and heart to the duality of challenging and fulfilling experiences, you can create a pathway of choosing both work and love that is a less arduous, and a lot more joyous.