Even though you seek work life balance, you’ll never attain it. Work life integration is another story. Work to live, and make work fit your life.
“I regard working as part of life, I don’t know how to distinguish between the two. I know that one can, and people do. I honestly think that the best answer to that question that I can give you is that the two things aren’t separated in my mind…Work is an expression of life for me.” – Orson Welles
Consult any life coach or self-help guide about achieving work life balance and they’ll equate it with the quest for the Holy Grail, sending you off on a journey worthy of the most devout crusader. That’s an ironic analogy, though, because even though you may seek true work life balance, you’ll never attain it. Designing work to fit the life you want, however – what we’re calling work life integration – is within reach of most people. We’ve been talking about work life integration for years (just a couple examples here, and here). We’re hoping we can get you to focus on thinking about how to make work fit life, too, instead of chasing after a concept you’ll never be able to catch. Implicit within the ideal of work life balance is constant activity: taking something from one part of your life to fill a deficit in another. Maintaining the equilibrium you’re aiming for traps you an endless cycle. No wonder everyone gets so tired! Work life integration, on the other hand, can be achieved by evaluating and strategizing how to fit work within the lifestyle you desire. Thus, it’s a far more rewarding and realistic objective. Katherine Rosman, writing in the Wall Street Journal’s Checks and Balances personal column some time ago, concluded, “Living a full life sometimes means living different ones at once, fulfilling contrasting obligations that compete for our time. Away from my life, I could see just how out of balance things are. But that may not be such a terrible thing. . . Balance is almost an impossible ideal.” Interestingly, Rosman resigned from the column shortly thereafter, citing the need for more time with her family and other priorities. Others concur. Judy Martin, blogging at Work Life Nation explains, “The quest for work life balance is the problem. It is a myth. It doesn’t exist. When chasing work life balance, you have accepted that your work is separate from your life. We give no other aspect of our life this kind of separation and power. There is no life-work balance, any more than there is life-family balance or life-breathing balance. There is only life.” Merging work to fit in better with the life you choose to lead isn’t a new concept. Yet, Pete and I repeatedly find ourselves explaining it. Many people conclude that work life integration is something new or unusual because over the past 75 years or so, we’ve been conditioned to think of working for someone else in a Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 existence as “normal.” People sign on to the belief that this kind of work style is preferential for reasons of security and professional fulfillment. Nothing could be further from the truth!
The real truth is that we’re killing ourselves in modern society chasing an ideal that we’ll never meet. Life is fast-paced and stressful, from the moment we awaken through the morning commute and immeasurable demands throughout the workday. Chasing the clock continues through the afternoon rush hour, trying to get to the daycare center or the after school event in time, shovel some food into everyone, help with homework, do some housework and fall exhausted into bed only to get up and have to do it all over again. This isn’t life, it’s a treadmill. Perhaps we’re subconsciously aware of how detrimental our daily lives are to our overall well-being. Tony Schwartz, in the Harvard Business Review, believes this is why “we deify doing.” Schwartz defines such speed as “the enemy of depth, nuance, subtlety, attention to detail, reflection, learning, and rich relationships — the enemy of much, in short, that makes life worth living. . .The faster we move, the less we feel, which may be a primary reason we move so fast. Most of us are more worried, uncertain, and insecure than we care to acknowledge, even to ourselves. Moving fast keeps those discomfiting feelings at bay.” Integrating work with life allows for the antithesis of the speed Schwartz deplores. It’s a transformational shift that can encompass an entirely new career, the pursuit of dreams deferred, and a higher level of adventure. In our experience, work life integration has provided greater fulfillment and unparalleled happiness. We’re in fine company. Hear Orson Welles make a marvelous encapsulation of a healthy life view that incorporated his personal genius in the following video (if you can’t see it in your reader, click here): Changing your life the way it is now into something you’d rather it be is difficult. We’re all influenced by the expectations of others, what we perceive as intractable obligations, material possessions and prestige. Letting go of these conceptions and crafting a different way will require preparation and dedication. Be aware that your finances might be adversely affected – it’s likely that you need to implement frugality AND diversify your revenue. Then you might realize that your current skills might be inadequate. Be realistic and make a plan based on what currently is so you can get to where you want to be. Get up to speed and gain confidence. Connect with others who are doing what you want to do. Perhaps you’ve been neglecting the wrong people and paying attention to the ones who are only perpetuating the contributory factors you need to deal with. Maybe you need to expand your network. Whatever your reality, you must convince yourself that what you aspire to is attainable, and then be prepared to fully experience the journey. One final example: The guy who wrote “How to Quit Your Job, Move to Paradise and Get Paid to Change the World” is living the work life integration dream. When you read his story, you’ll wonder what your excuse is.