We have more demands on our time and attention than ever before and our anxiety levels keep rising to new heights as we try desperately to keep up.
Once we realize that the pace we’re trying to keep up with is unsustainable and is eroding our happiness and our relationships, we often turn to the idea of work-life balance.
Overall I’m glad the idea of work-life balance has entered the conversation — because we all deserve to have well-rounded and thriving lives — but there’s a problem: there’s no such thing as enduring work-life balance.
This is why I teach my clients to aim for work-life integration instead, which I’ll cover later in this article.
Striving for ongoing work-life balance is a trap that:
- increases stress about doing life wrong, so people can sell you things to try to fix it.
- puts a mythic location of perfection “out there” that you have to strive to reach.
- keeps you perpetually looking outside yourself for validation that you’re doing it right.
Work-life balance is an invitation to feel like you’re failing at yet another thing you’re supposed to get right to have a happy and well-rounded life.
As an entrepreneur and someone who’s worked with clients over a 30-year span, I haven’t come across a perfect way to set up work and personal life that works for everyone. What’s true is that some folks thrive with every minute of the day scheduled and others need lots of unscheduled time in which to mentally and physically putter.
And for each of those types of folks, their needs change over time as they adapt to changes in work, health, family life, and (hopefully) growth in awareness of their own and others’ actual wants and needs.
Aiming for work-life balance is like asking yourself to live, like a gymnast, on a balance beam, potentially falling off that narrow, perfect span at any time, putting one foot in front of or behind the other and doing backflips. Any mistake carries with it the risk of serious loss or injury.
I don’t know about you, but I want more room to roam in my life than a four-inch-wide beam.
Imagine instead a gymnast doing the floor exercise on that big mat, the way they weave dance, emotional expression, musicality, and gymnastics together in an integrated, gorgeous, risky whole. This weaving together, coupled with the expanded space the mat provides to criss-cross, flip, roll, shimmy, and leap, is what the alternative to work-life balance feels like.
The alternative is work-life integration.
Integration means the process of integrating what has been fragmented into a whole.
When you’re trying to give the best of yourself to your work, and the best of yourself at home, spreading yourself too thin in the process and likely forgetting to give the best of yourself to yourself, you’re getting torn into pieces.
Plus, the internal reasons for your overwork and over-push need to be faced and integrated before you can even discover your unique and ideal work-life mix.
If you’re driven for any other reason than the joy of making a difference with what you’re doing — for example, to prove yourself worthy, to be famous, or you don’t know who you are unless you’re driving at a goal, or you’re leaving behind a shitty childhood and thumbing your nose at anyone who tries to stop you — it’s damn near impossible to determine your ideal mix of work and the rest of your life until you unpack and understand your drive and learn to be with yourself right where you are.
So, what does work-life integration look like IRL?
When you sail a boat toward the marina, you don’t aim straight at the dock or you’ll miss it. You aim slightly to the right or the left, based on the prevailing wind and currents at the time, and keep tacking slightly right and left all along the way, so that you eventually land at the dock.
Like tacking a sailboat toward a marina, the ongoing process of work-life integration reflects more accurately the way life really works.
In this way, work-life integration has more room to move around in it than a four-inch-wide balance beam, and therefore more potential to be useful as an organizing principle for a mutable life — and BONUS! — it feels a whole lot better, doesn’t it?
In my body, thinking about work-life integration lands like dropped shoulders and a sigh of relief.
There are going to be times when work takes precedence over the rest of your life and that’s okay.
- When you’re under the gun of a deadline or a launch, let yourself be under the gun and communicate with your partner in advance about how long you’ll be unavailable.
- Look for ways to be more productive and focused during your big push, so you could actually take a night or two off to canoodle with someone you love.
- Take time off to be with your loved ones after the deadline’s over. You need time to recover and digest and juicy and fun time with the people you love is a great way to give that to yourself.
There are times when your drive to work hard is aligned with who you are and other times when your drive’s hiding something you don’t want to feel.
- Growing your ability to discern when you’re in alignment and when you’re in the grip of an over-work pattern, or an avoidance pattern, helps you know when to step away from your desk even if your head’s screaming at you to stay.
- Rather than getting defensive or over-protective of your drive to succeed, have an honest and vulnerable conversation with your partner(s) about the pressures you feel — some of which may be self-imposed — and ask what they see and what your impact feels like to them when you’re in the grip of your drive. They may have supportive insights or suggestions that could help you get off the wheel and enjoy your whole life more.
- Approach the question of what an ideal work-life integration would look and feel like for you and your family as a team. As life changes, revisit the question to see if it’s time to tack in some way. Notice if you’re setting up the conversation in an adversarial or defensive way and be transparent about wanting to find a workable solution that feels good to everyone, including YOU.
- Read this article on boosting your self-love without having to buy anything, so it becomes easier for you to stop driving yourself so hard at work and grow your love and joy at home.
One final offering:
The idea of work-life balance carries problem energy in it, because you become interested in it when you feel unhappy and overwhelmed.
Trying to fix a problem with an idea that’s still wrapped up in the problem isn’t the most winning solution.
Instead, the idea of work-life integration acknowledges the existence of multiple parts of your life that need to blend well into a supportive whole. It centers you as the agent responsible for the optimum integration of your varying drives and desires.
In this way, work-life integration begins in spaciousness and power and invites out your curiosity and creativity, instead of triggering your shame.
Starting from spaciousness, power, curiosity, and creativity to get clear on and create your ideal work-life mix sets you up better to both succeed at your work and feel nourished by deep connection and love because — instead of trying to balance your life on a four-inch beam — you’ve chosen to prioritize being integrated and whole.
The relationship you desire is possible! Click HERE to discover what missing pieces are stopping you from having the connection and passion you desire.