When The Atlantic published a controversial article by Anne-Marie Slaughter about how difficult it truly is for women to ‘have it all,’ it added more fuel to the raging fire of the work-life-balance debate, which has likely been going on in some form since humankind first realized that there are ways to make other people feel bad about their life choices. Apparently, the stereotype of the harried, working mom who has a high-level career and still tries her damnedest not to disappoint the other mothers at her daughter’s bake sale has become somewhat of a cultural icon — if you don’t believe me, just read the book I Don’t Know How She Does It (or watch the recent movie, starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Greg Kinnear).
Whether people choose to view self-identification as a complicated juggling act or opt instead to focus on a limited number of areas is the important distinction underlying Patricia Linville’s self-complexity theory. Someone who is high in self-complexity would define herself in terms of many different possible domains (e.g. I’m a mother, a wife, a marathoner, a tenured professor, and a singer), while someone who is low in self-complexity would use fewer. And although self-complexity theory doesn’t necessarily stake any claims about particular sides in the work-life-balance-debate being “right” or “wrong,” research in this area has shown — perhaps surprisingly to some — that people who define themselves using multiple domains may actually, at least in some ways, be happier and healthier.