Pick One: Balance vs. Integration

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash
This is for the side-projecting, hustle loving creative who isn’t sure how they’re going to keep everything going. Who hears about that infamous term, “work/life balance” but isn’t sure what exactly that means or how to get there.

When conversations turn to the infamous work/life balance idea, people begin to squirm. Often because they don’t feel like they’re good at it. I sure do. It’s time to rethink it, though, because the more appropriate term is work/life integration. This is the idea where some days life requires more than 50% and others require 80% going towards work.

It is possible to have a fulfilled life in both work and life, but it takes work. My goal is to help you begin to determine what can stay, what can take a larger or smaller role in life, and what may need to be set aside for the time being. Before we get to that though, I want to review why I use the term “integration” instead of “balance”.

Work/Life Integration

When we consider balance vs. integration, we need to rethink the traditional, often overused idea of balancing life and work. The scale will very rarely, if ever, truly balance out to 50/50, work and life. Your relationship with creativity and work is like any other relationship. Some weeks your spouse, partner, or roommate can do more to take care of the home and life tasks in general, while other weeks they’re trying to get everything done and you need to step up to more than “your” 50%.

Some weeks will require that more of your energy goes towards life, and I can’t emphasize enough that it’s okay to acknowledge it and listen to that gut feeling. It could be someone in your community needing your help, family coming into town, or just a few days catching up on everything that got pushed back while working on your goal. In order to make this work, then, you’ll need a more work-heavy week before or after to make up for it.

Or, let’s explore the opposite. You’re trying to launch a big project and some glitches keep happening. Those few days will require longer hours, less time for community, and less time for self-care. Those are also the days we creatives live for because there are very few things better than launching a project and seeing people respond to it.

Once that project is launched, though, we need to remember the other piece of us: from the beautifully complex like relationships to the mundane like grocery shopping and cleaning. Both work and life can make us fulfilled, and one without the other leads to a lopsided life.

What Happens When You Integrate Work & Life

When you integrate work and life, there will always be pieces that don’t fit. As much as we may like to try to include everything, it just doesn’t work. How do we then best decide what to keep and what to remove?

There Will be Trade-Offs

Personally, this has included a few different trade-offs. One is putting one project aside for the time being to give another one priority. I have so many ideas of what I want to do with my podcast, writing, and career, but I also know myself. I know that I try to give each of them 100% effort at the same time, it’s not going to go well. So I’ve started prioritizing all my ideas. And if I want to start a new one, then another needs to get put in the “someday” column of my brain and workload.

For example, my priority right now is continuing the podcast and launching a new project. I have at least two other ideas that have had to move down in order to accommodate these three, and I know that I’ll either get to them eventually or decide that I no longer want what those projects offer.

Life-wise, this looks like choosing my non-negotiables:

  • Food prepping so I can eat nourishing food so my body operates well.
  • Spending time with my community at least twice a week.
  • Taking one complete day off a week. This means that my weeknights are typically spent working so that my Saturdays don’t require work time.

Some areas where I let life lapse include:

  • Eating the same three meals over and over so meal prep is more efficient. (Thankfully, I don’t mind this!)
  • A lower level of fitness due to short, concise workouts and a few long hikes. This also means no half-marathons anytime soon. This is partially burnout and partially work/life integration related.

This isn’t an easy process, especially as creatives who are always having new ideas about how to use their skills and grow their career, as well as those who have a large community and want to see as many people as possible. (There are some perks to moving to a new place!) These trade-offs are, though, as most things are in this realm, a rewarding process.

Another integration we need to consider is a bit more practical: making money vs following our passion.

Money vs. Passion

In order to truly do what you love, you need to make money for it. There are different ideas for how much, whether it’s the charging more so you can retire early and travel or embodying the starving artist stereotype. In order to survive or thrive, whichever your preference, you need to make money. You also want to enjoy what you’re doing.

I’d argue that the starving artist mentality isn’t healthy, but you will also at times need to sacrifice in order to build something up. Ultimately, you need to decide what your time is worth.

I have difficulty charging what my time is worth, which has stalled my progress to an extent. When I price projects, my goal is to make enough to live and save. This is part of my integration. I’m okay being more selective and therefore have the potential to make less now because I want to focus on what I find valuable.

Only you can make this decision, but I want you to remember that integrating your passion into your living requires some personal searching into what you find valuable and what you want out of life.

It’s okay to make money with your creativity. You need to steward your resources well in order to thrive in your creativity. And it’s okay to make more than you need to live! But consider your motivation when it comes to integrating money and passion.

When working on integrating your work and personal lives, there’s a very important piece that is needed for both: self-care.

Always Remember Self-Care

Life gets busy. I know. But if you can’t make time for regular self-care, then you aren’t living to your greatest potential. Some weeks you’ll be better at this than others, but the most important thing is that you’re making a conscious choice to include it throughout the week.

Self-care doesn’t have to be an hour long nap or spa day, though those can certainly count. It could be a five-minute walk around your neighborhood or office complex. Don’t stare at your phone, listen to music, and instead focus on getting away from the desk. This is often where the best ideas come from, which means this isn’t something to miss. It also gives you a chance to not think about work.

Other self-care ideas, because it’s a practice that’s different for everyone, are:

  • Mindfulness
  • Gratitude
  • Journaling
  • Time with friends
  • Sleep
  • Self-care
  • And perhaps hardest and best of all, setting boundaries.

Some of these, like mindfulness, gratitude, and time with friends, are something I recommend for everyone. The act themselves, though, looks different to each person. And boundaries? Yeah, that’s a tricky one.

I’m an Enneagram 2, which is The Helper. So my go-to choice is to help someone, even if that means sacrificing my own health, time, and joy. Sacrificial love, in romantic and platonic relationships, requires time and sacrifice, but it’s important to care for yourself first so that you can better care for others around you.

Boundaries as self-care require focusing on your own needs so that you can then better serve others within your career and personal life.

Self-care tasks can be both a daily and a weekly ritual. My favorite form of self-care is my Self-Care Thursdays, where I go to a local coffee shop before work and read, meet up with friends, or work on some fun projects. It’s time spent just for me and has been so incredibly beneficial for my mental health and overall happiness. When I’ve had to miss it for travel or unescapable reasons, I can tell.

This non-negotiable time has also really helped with my boundary-setting because I come into work later on Thursdays, so I’ve needed to schedule meetings around it. Saying “no” for me is so hard. But setting this time aside, along with using some of my PTO for occasional mental health days, has done a lot for myself in this season of unknowns and big goals.

The rest of the week, I go for runs, take a walk near the office, go to bed early, get a nice bag of coffee, flowers at Trader Joe’s… it varies. But what doesn’t is that I prioritize it. Or rather, it doesn’t most of the time.

And this is where balance vs. integration comes back into it. Some weeks you’ll be better at this than others. Some weeks you’ll have to skip that trip to Trader Joe’s so that you can meet a deadline. Just make sure you’re aware of your needs so that you can recover from a difficult week and prepare for the next one. You can’t keep them from coming, but you can create a self-care system to help you.

Self-care is highly personalized, so the goal of this is to help you find what works best for you. Not your friend or co-worker. You.

You were created for incredible things, and we need to learn how to incorporate them into our lives without forgetting the rest of our lives.

Transitioning from balance to integration with work and life begins by realizing that everyone has their own needs and that to find yours, you need to look at your current obligations and personal needs. Trade-offs are required, but you aren’t required to have the same as your friend or co-worker.

You were created for incredible things, and we need to learn how to incorporate them into our lives without forgetting the rest of our lives. Once we begin to integrate these two important areas of our life together, we’ll be able to focus much better on what truly matters: living out our purpose through our gifts.