Forget Work-Life Balance. Aim for Work-Life Integration.
How many times has this generation heard all the women before us singing the praises of “work-life balance?” You work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then draw a hard line between your work life and your home life. I hear it in every professional panel, conference room, career conversation and coaching meeting. But work-life balance hasn’t really lived up to its name—has it?
If you’re anything like me, when you talk work-life balance you fall prey to thinking within the confines of just those things: work and life. But we all know this world is filled with so much more than that. The phrase also leads us to believe we require a complete separation of the two (work and life) to be happy. In many cases, that’s entirely unrealistic.
I work in an industry that affords me the luxury of what’s called work-life integration. At first, it sounds like a fancy way to give your manager an excuse to call you at 9 p.m. demanding client deliverables. But any true integration works both ways. If I can work on client deliverables at 9 p.m., I should also have the freedom to go to a doctor’s appointment or take a personal call at 9 a.m., without it affecting my professional reputation.
According to UC Berkeley and Berkeley Haas, work-life integration “...is an approach that creates more synergies between all areas that define ‘life’.” Think of it like a four-circle Venn diagram where (1) work, (2) home/family, (3) community and (4) personal wellbeing/health are all interconnected. At the center of each of the four circles lies the most efficient, happy, healthy and productive version of yourself. That’s work/life integration. Our lives can—and should—be more fluid that the zero-sum game the term work-life balance implies.
Here are four hustle-related reasons you should reframe the way you think about work-life integration:
1. When you love what you do, you never truly stop working
Much of our generation has entered the “gig economy,” which means their work doesn’t fit into the nine-to-five anyway. These “gig-ers” have typically mastered the work-life integration thing, because they have to work on their own schedule. “Gig-ers” take care of family when they need to, work when they need to and catch up with friends when they can. When work doesn’t feel like work, maybe it slips into your personal life. I’ve seen plenty of friends turn their personal passions into vehicles by which they earn their living. Can we really expect people to turn their creativity on and off by the face of a clock?
2. You don’t want to limit your growth.
I’ve had some side projects for work that have really inspired me. Sometimes that means I work 20-plus hours a week in the evenings and over weekends, in addition to my regular client work. Many of these projects have been stretch assignments that helped me grow, build a formidable reputation and get early exposure to leadership. Other side projects give me time to build skills I’ll need for promotion down the road. If I stopped working after 5 p.m. every day, I’d be missing out on a lot. Not all growth can come in the form of a formal position, and you never want to get complacent or stop learning. Imagine you’re an entrepreneur giving it everything you’ve got to help your new company takes off. Would you really want to limit your potential to whatever you can fit into a traditional 40-hour work week?
3. What if you have a side hustle?
I’m a fairly regular contributing writer to Babes Who Hustle, and if I didn’t allow myself time in the evenings or on the weekends to write, I’d never be published. Writing fulfills me and helps me pay forward the advice that continues to help me be successful. If you have a passion project, side hustle or contribution to make to the world, don’t dismiss what fulfills you simply because you’d have to work on it after hours. Allow yourself to chase a dream or an idea, when you have the energy to chase it. Don’t forget about your personal life—but don’t use it as an excuse either.
4. Because it makes sense.
Unless you’re in a job that has set hours (such as teaching or bartending), work-life integration just makes sense. If you’re in a profession where all that really matters is what you accomplish each week, set yourself up for your best success. Work when you are feeling inspired and take a step back when needed. Create when the moment strikes and spend time with friends when they’re in town. Set time aside to meet people for lunch, but come back and slay that proposal sitting on your desk. Sometimes that means working a couple weekends in a row, but taking a 10-day vacation after a big deliverable; it could also mean setting aside 15 minutes to meditate every afternoon and jumping right back into your day. Do what works best for you and the aspects of your life that exist outside work (home/family, community and personal well-being/health).
At the end of the day, this is your life—and you only get the one. Work-life balance had a really good run and was first coined with truly good intentions, but we no longer live in a binary world. We shouldn’t be holding ourselves to old standards, we should be creating standards of our own. Work-life integration is a way of reframing work-life balance in your mind and giving yourself the opportunity to balance all aspects of your life, in a way that works for you.
If you love what you do, you’ll inevitably end up working nights and weekends—so take a break during the day. Go out to get a cup of coffee, go say “hi” to the person who sits on the other side of the office, get a breath of fresh air when you need to think through something by taking a walk around the block. If you’re in a place where you want to keep challenging yourself, take those after-hours opportunities and rest between side projects. If you have a side hustle, never let a clock tell you when you can or can’t pursue your dream. You won’t be afraid of losing your personal time, if you no longer limit yourself to thinking it only exists in evenings and on weekends. You won’t be afraid of not hitting a deadline, if you permit yourself to work extra hours, when the need arises. If you’re putting in the time, meeting your deadlines, clearly communicating with all the people involved and not letting anyone down, there’s no reason you should—or should not—be productive, just because “it’s time to do so.”
Stop living separate lives in the two worlds of work and life, and start living as one person so you can be more than you ever thought you would.
Hillary works as a Senior Strategy Consultant at IBM. She found her passion for her new job in the two years she took off work to pursue a full-time, Global MBA degree at George Washington University in Washington DC. She is driven by her constant curiosity and her truest love is for travel and adventure. Having moved to California in early 2019, outside work you can find her planning her next trip, exploring her local beaches, reading a book, or wandering along a new hiking trail.