From Balance to Integration: A Work-Life Story
Trying to balance anything is a losing game. Time for some integration.
I have always worked. Since my first job at 13, I’ve never not had one.
Part-time jobs, working through college, early-career, business leader, entrepreneur…I’ve done it all, non-stop. The current stage of my life is an interesting one. I’ve owned my own business for six years, during which time my wife has worked full-time and my kids have been growing up. I also have employees going through similar life experiences. What I see happening across the board with all of us is our constant struggle to balance it all. On one side is the business and on the other side is family and leisure. We’ve been told we should seek work-life balance, as if it’s even remotely possible to balance each side so neither infringes on the other.
Pedestals to Platforms
Dispelling with the notion of work-life balance, I am instead becoming a practitioner of work-life integration. Now, I most certainly did not invent this concept. It’s been well researched, touted, and documented. See Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Fortune, Entrepreneur, Tony Robbins via Inc., and much more (Google it!). But, I am a believer and what got me there was a metaphor I created for myself.
When I think about work-life balance I imagine a cluster of individual pedestals. One is work, one is spouse, one is kids, one is friends, one is hobbies, etc. These pedestals require that I balance on one, then somehow move to another, and another, and so on. But have you ever tried to balance on something? Maybe by standing on one foot or walking along a curb? How stable were you in that situation and how long could you keep it up? My guess is not very, and not for very long. Not only do we easily lose our balance, but we’re also incredibly vulnerable to something knocking us off balance. A small nudge or gust of wind and off we go. Metaphorically speaking, that’s what we’re all trying to do when we attempt to balance our “work” and “life.” We precariously perch ourselves on one pedestal or another, and we inevitably fail because balancing in the long-term doesn’t work.
Not only do we easily lose our balance, but we’re also incredibly vulnerable to something knocking us off balance.
So, what’s the answer?
Instead of individual pedestals, I envision blending the different areas of my life with a series of integrated platforms. Imagine that instead of trying to balance on a small pedestal you can firmly plant both feet on a large platform. How stable would you be then? Very! And, because the platforms are integrated (imagine them fitting together like puzzle pieces) you can more easily move between them. Just walk from one to the other and re-plant your feet. Or, maybe straddle two platforms with one foot planted on each. No matter how you do it, you’re stable and able to deftly move between them at will.
Imagine that instead of trying to balance on a small pedestal you can firmly plant both feet on a large platform.
Making it work…
To put this into practice I’ve recently begun visualizing the different areas of my life as integrated platforms and I’ve been conscious of when each requires my attention and when I want to move between them. I find that I no longer begrudge when I have to do work at home, or feel guilty when I need to take some traditionally work-time for my family. It all blends together and I own the responsibility to be sure I take care of my wants and obligations, but I get to do so more at my discretion and less when work-life norms would otherwise dictate. Yes, work is still mainly done during “working hours” with everything else mainly during evenings and weekends. But it’s brought me a tremendous freedom to be able to blur those lines without angst, guilt, or stress. My feet are firmly planted and I’m not struggling to hold on to some futile sense of balance.
Integration = Happy!
The result is that I’m also happier and find that I more enjoy all aspects of my life. When you take away the struggle and let things flow, you find there is a natural place for all of it that you’ve been fighting all along in the name of balance. So ditch the pedestals, integrate your platforms, and enjoy life with both feet firmly planted on the ground (like happy penguins!).
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