More Than One Way to Build a Bridge

April 29, 2024

On July 1, 1940, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge near Seattle, Washington opened to traffic. It was the third largest suspension bridge in the world at that time and was only three years younger than its big brother the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Four months after opening, owners of a local camera shop filmed as the bridge buckled, bounced, and torqued in the wind. That footage has been studied in engineering classes the world over. The video is surreal. At times it looks like a trampoline, at other times like a slinky being stretched out and wiggled in the air. A short time later, the bridge collapsed and fell nearly 200 feet into the waters of Puget Sound.

The only casualty was a three-legged Cocker Spaniel named Tubby who bit the hand of his would-be rescuer moments before the bridge collapsed.

Poor Tubby is a reminder that nobody is at their best when the bridge fails.


In a recent article, I suggested the metaphor of building bridges as a model for work-life stability. In this article I elaborate on that idea.

If work-life balance implies a 50-50 split between time spent at work and the rest of life, that would mean an 84-hour work week. That may be appropriate for some people in certain careers or in certain stages of life but not for everybody. This is one of the reasons I like to talk about work-life stability and bridge building instead. Everybody’s situation is different and there are no one-size-fits-all answers.

There are many types of bridges, and most are not “balanced” in the traditional sense.

Suspension bridges possess the special feature of flexibility. This was the death knell for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge – it flexed, but not in the right way. The Golden Gate Bridge has proven more reliable in this regard. Further, the Golden Gate Bridge, as is true for many others, has an arch to it to help support the load at its weakest midway point.  

The Eshima Ohashi Bridge in Japan has such a steep incline that people call it the “rollercoaster bridge.” It has a 6.1% gradient on one side and a 5.1% gradient on the other. The contrasting slopes create an optical illusion in which passengers traveling the bridge fall off a visual cliff when viewed from certain angles. This steep pitch serves the purpose of allowing ships to pass underneath without having to stop traffic as the case would be with a drawbridge.

Moon bridges are known for their aesthetic qualities. They consist of a semicircular arch that when reflected in water forms a circle. The walking deck follows the curve of the arch, which can be quite steep and demands far more physical exertion than a flat bridge. The benefit though is a structure that appears to be an outgrowth of the environment itself.

The Khasi people in the Meghalaya region of north-eastern India have a tradition of building bridges out of the roots of massive fig trees. These living root bridges look like something out of a fantasy novel and can take up to 40 or 50 years to grow to the point where they can support foot traffic. They are, quite literally, an extension of the natural environment and only grow stronger over time. This type of bridge takes foresight, planning, and patience. But the result is a gift to future generations.

There’s more than one way to build a bridge – more than one way to create stability.

A lot of people put in more than 40 hours of work each week. Many do more than 84. This is especially true for caregivers whose work is not reflected on any kind of timesheet. And most people in comfortable careers had to endure long seasons of life outside of the 40-hours-a-week camp.

For people in these situations, preaching work-life balance can feel unrealistic –even insulting. For example, how can a mother of three cut back on hours? Stability, on the other hand, can come in numerous, often paradoxical, forms.

Maybe it means breaking down the dividing wall between work and life by debriefing with your partner after a long day or working through a backlog on the weekends. Or perhaps it means adding a new self-care discipline or waking up a little earlier to shore up your morning routine.

Maybe it means good ol’ fashioned PTO and some moderated self-indulgence.

Or maybe it means attaching figurative steel cables to important pillars of hope and meaning in your life.

There is no one right way to go about solving the equation. It’s just a matter of what works and doesn’t work for you.

When balance feels like a pie-in-the-sky, stability can be a much more realistic and flexible goal.


If these brainstorming items fall flat for you, try asking the people closest to you for some ideas. That is the essence of bridging strategies.

And try not to be like Tubby. Don’t bite the hand of the people who want to help.

SMH. Poor Tubby.


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