Work/life balance has been a buzz word for a long time and I’d even argue more so now than ever, given that as a collective population, the way we work and the place that we work may have shifted. It’s a blessing if you are able to do your work from home and it’s important to note that not everyone has that privilege, but when looking at this notion of balancing life and work and doing all of those things under one roof, it can feel impossible, frustrating, and limiting.
So instead of this idea of balance, let’s talk about a different word: integration, the blend. Have you heard that work-life integration is the new work-life balance? It seems that we’ve finally realized collectively that “balance” isn’t actually achievable, regardless of where your work takes place. If you’ve ever desperately tried to find balance in your own life and likely failed miserably, you know how hard it is to try and keep the scales even. Because here’s the truth: all the important pieces of your life are never going to be EQUAL.
If we really look at it, the undertones of “achieving balance” are more associated with perfection than reaching a realistic goal that gives us full, impactful, purpose driven lives. While the intention may have been good, the execution woke up something else in us. It’s like we all forgot that balance is a moment, not a lifetime.
So let’s talk about this newer word going around, and in my opinion, a word that reaches far beyond the buzz of a buzzword and can actually be used throughout a lifetime— “integration.” What is integration, how does it beat balance, and what does it look like in our own lives?
Balance vs. Integration
The legitimate definition of balance is: an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady. Meanwhile, the definition of integration is: the act or process of combining one thing with another so that they become a whole. One focuses on the pressure of maintaining steadiness, of staying upright no matter what, of keeping the weight distribution equal among the many different parts of us, while the other focuses on intertwining and weaving together the many parts of us to feel whole at all times.
So many of us, women especially, don’t feel welcome to show up as our whole selves. We try to hide parts of ourselves and compartmentalize our gifts, duties, and identities. We’ve been conditioned to believe that we have to show up as the version of what others expect or need from us which has us constantly role switching and shoving away some of the things that make us… us.
Have you ever felt that way? Like you’re not totally welcome to be who you are? Like you have to hide parts of your identity to be accepted in situations and so you’re just the half version of yourself? When we can only show up as a part of ourselves in our society, whether it’s being at work and never sharing about your life outside of work or being at home and never explaining to your family what you do for a living or what you’re working on, it can weigh you, it can take a toll.
The Role of Boundaries
If you know me, you know that I LOVE boundaries. I am the queen of them and there are so many boundaries in my work life, in my home life, but my goal this year was actually to invite more gray into my world. I am an absolutes person, black and white and with the goal no longer being balance but integration, my desire is to find more room for gray for me.
When Coco was first born, I had this notion that it was up to me to keep a clear, unwavering divide between parenting and working, and I never wanted her to see me working. I wanted her to think I only existed as her mom and never feel second to my work, but as she’s grown up and become more perceptive and aware, I realize that I actually do want her to understand that I work, and even further, I want her to be a part of what I do so that she sees what SHE is capable of doing. If I don’t at least let her see all these other parts of my life, I would be hiding them from her, and giving her only a *part* of me, which isn’t fair to either of us and frankly, so much of her life is made possible through my work. I love my work and I’m proud of it.
Lately, I’ve been really up front with her when I need to work and I share what I’m going to be working on (accountability with a three year old, so cool!) And she’ll even close the door and say, “Mom, I’m right here if you need me!” Honestly, I am happy to stare that gray area right in its face and recognize that there’s so much value in her seeing that I am an integration of so many things, understanding what that work affords us, and watching me navigate situations that aren’t solely centered on her or even me.
That’s what integration is to me, not hiding parts of who I am, not showing up as half of me, but the whole. The worker and the mother, the boss and the wife, the sister and the friend, allowing gray areas to exist rather than putting the pieces of our lives in these perfect little boxes, offering only a piece when we feel welcome to. A siloed life is a detached life, and I want a life of connection.
What’s Best for You?
This idea of integration over balance feels so much more feasible and peaceful to me, but maybe that’s not the same for you. I get that some people might prefer the separation, which is totally fine too. Some might want their work life and home life to be defined as different areas, and if that’s you, I would just encourage you to not seek “balance” between the two, because really they will never be completely separate and equal. Instead, focus on boundaries and what will allow you to show up as your best self in every area.
Here are a few thoughts to consider as you figure out what fits best into your lifestyle:
When you consider work-life balance vs. integration, which one is more realistic for you? Do you like having separate pieces of your life, or would you rather work to remove some of the separation so you can be wholly you in each role and focus on what’s most important at any given time?
Can you identify ways that you may hide parts of your identity in different settings, and evaluate if there’s opportunity to integrate or blend those?
How can you bring the “triage” mindset to your own life? What needs your time, energy, and attention now and how can you remove the guilt to unapologetically show up in your life in the right spots?
What can you do to focus on and prioritize the right things that can help you feel accomplished and allow you to feel less “guilty” about where you decide to focus?
Regardless of what feels right for you and your lifestyle, I’d love for you to consider how you can learn to trust yourself more in where you’re putting your focus, your time, your energy. Different seasons call for different needs, that’s just life and I feel like we have this opportunity, this invitation to figure out how it is we want to move forward as the world starts to move forward after two years of uncertainty.
Balance is a Performance
I used to apologize for my ambition or quickly shut my computer when Coco walked into the room. But honestly, I love saving so much of my energy NOT trying to perform anymore. I am not running around trying to keep everything at equal levels. I am not “giving my all” in every single moment, because no one can do that! Or working hard in one area only to work harder in the other to make them balanced.
It’s not about keeping score of your life or judging yourself for all the identities you’re trying to master, but instead trying to figure out how to show up as your full self in all scenarios, and being resilient and flexible when it’s possible. It’s about making the various parts of your life work together as teammates rather than opponents.
For me, honest integration is kind of like triage, but without the urgency and drama. What I mean is… it’s like looking at where my time, energy, and attention is needed most and doing my best to unapologetically start there and focus well so that I can shift back to my other responsibilities more easily.
There will be heavier work seasons, and there will be heavier parenting or family seasons, and both are okay. It’s not about keeping score it’s about paying attention. When you’re simply noticing and consciously spending your time and energy in the right places, the guilt of ‘not doing enough’ doesn’t get to sneak in. It doesn’t have a chance to derail you when you’re taking an honest approach at being present where you’re most needed and the game changer is learning to trust yourself that you’re making the right decision in the moment you’re in.
The Big Picture
We deserve to feel whole in all areas of our lives, and not made to feel like our identities or thee roles we play are competing for our attention or like we’re failing if we aren’t equally AND separately contributing to our work and personal lives.
Work-life integration is a beautiful thing that you can introduce into your life and tailor to your own personal needs, goals, career and home life. It doesn’t need to be all or nothing and there will still be times that feel “imbalanced” but that’s okay… that’s actually a part of it! It’s okay and perfectly normal to have times that require more of you in one area of your life. Lean into ways and look for safe spaces where you can intertwine the pieces of your life so that you can be wholly you, no matter what you’re doing, who you’re with, or where you are. And when you find yourself in those precious moments where you’re just unshakably you, notice them and vow to get more of them!