Many say that work/life balance is an unachievable aspiration. Some believe it should be reframed to work/life integration. Others believe that work and life should be completely separate. Depending on the week, or even day, I fall into one of the three. To me, constantly pursuing work/life balance, integration, or separation, is unnecessary and can lead to unwanted stress. It is impossible to pick one and follow it, each and every day. So what would happen if we made peace with the fact that all three are great options, and we give ourselves a little bit of slack, allowing us to move between the different concepts as we move from day to day? Let’s break them down:
Work/Life Balance: There are periods in my life where I need to work really hard for an extended amount of time. It might not be the work I am most excited about, but it needs to get done in order to move goals forward. It is during these times that I seek balance. I may need to check email at night a few times a week, but I make sure to sit down for dinner with my family first. Or I may have to work on the weekend, but I wake up extra early to hit the gym first. It can go the other way as well – in the past year, I have had several times where family and life quickly because my main priority above everything else – I had to get work done, but more time was spent on the things outside of work that were more important. This mode is all about balance.
Work/Life Integration: I see many people trending towards this concept, as opposed to balance. For me, when I am working on something that I am extremely excited about, I find myself in a flow state constantly, whether I’m in the office or at home. Everything I do seems to be in pursuit of one goal, and I don’t care whether it’s 10pm on a Tuesday, 9am on a Sunday, or 5pm on a Friday. I am totally in it, and my work seems to align with exactly what I want from life, and the two are truly integrated. This mode is about integrating your work and life so that you are working on what you love at all times.
Work/Life Separation: With each year, I have become more appreciative of this framework, and tend to use it more than ever. There are times when I need to just leave work at work, and I need to leave home at home. I truly believe that you can get everything you need to get done in whatever amount of time you set for yourself. Early in my career, I would have hated to say that I work a 9-5 job, because of the negative connotation it tends to have, at least in New York City. I am now perfectly content to work my (8:30-5) day job, and leave my work at the door as soon as the clock strikes 5. When I operate this way, I am more efficient and effective than I am if I’m working long hours for no real purpose. I also get more done at home, have more time for play, and get to spend more time with the people I love. Now, there are days and weeks where this doesn’t happen, but that is absolutely okay. This mode is about being in the present moment and being ‘all in’, wherever you are.
To reduce our own stress, let’s not make ourselves pick one of these modes and feel like we need to abide by it at all times. Let’s allow ourselves to be present and be okay with whichever we need at a given moment. After practicing this mindset for a few months, I have significantly reduced any stress I have about not feeling like I can do it all. Our lives are constantly changing, so we need to stop judging ourselves based on a “framework” of how we work and how we live our life. Let’s move forward and take our work, and our life, day by day.