STOP trying to achieve Work-Life Balance
I can't think of a topic that is more widely covered than “work-life balance”. The thing is, as I’ve grown in my (relatively short) career, seen my friends flourish in theirs, and observed my parents over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that work-life “balance” is a unicorn. It just does’t exist.
Over about the last three years as I started to understand overall wellness and what it means to take care of myself physically and mentally, I’ve become significantly more cognizant of the stress that I carry around because of my work. I've noticed how despite everything I've never read about "balancing" work and rest, the pendulum always tends to land on the work side.
Admittedly, I don’t do a great job, but I know I'm not the only one. I hold on to stress, tend to overdo exercise unintentionally (because I love it), and have trouble just resting or sitting still. When I do sit still, I find myself doing un-restorative things like scrolling through email or social media. I continue to see the consequences of my mental and emotional stress on my body and skin and it’s a constant battle to undo (or at least mitigate) all of the damage.
The thing is, I love my job. It’s more than a J-O-B, it’s a core part of my life. Almost every single one of my best friends love their jobs, love working, and also see their work as a core part of their lives.
So, if work-life balance doesn’t exist, what can we all strive for that makes the stress of that thing we love, blend more seamlessly into our non-working hours and not leave us so drained and worried about balancing it all.
I read something the other day that I believe it is the answer — work-life integration.
I love that word - integration. It doesn’t carry with it the unnecessary guilt that work should be equal or “balanced” with non-work.
For most of us, work-stress or workload can be cyclical. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, and sometimes even if the hours are long, it is not all consuming or overly impactful on relationships or leisure. Either way, (for most of us) work is not going away any time soon.
Work-life integration is on my mind a lot lately as I think about how by December 31st, I will have spent one-third of 2016 in China. (For work.)
It has made me really think about how I am not only spending my time here, but also how I view this time.
I've really realized that it's not work OR life. There’s only life and we only have one. It’s okay if there’s a season when what you value a lot is your work. Maybe it will always be like that, or maybe not. The things that make us crazy are stressing about how stressed we are about work, worrying about balance, or putting everything else on hold while we work - which often compounds by negatively impacting those closest to you.
As for me, I truly believe that I am not putting everything on hold for work. God has a perfect plan for my life (and yours) and it is our job to take advantage of the opportunities in front of us.
An insignificant but illustrative example: I can’t take tennis lessons or play at all while I’m in China. Does that mean I'm putting my future semi-pro tennis career on hold? Maybe. However, there are things that I can do here that I can’t do other places quite as easily… like learn Chinese. Take advantage of the environment you're in.
Another example - I could easily put off seeing friends or family just because I’m on the other side of the world. But that would be putting life on hold. I am fortunate enough to be able to fly home and even though a 16-hour flight can seem daunting, but that is truly so little time in the scope of my life.
Work-life integration isn't all rainbows and butterflies though. The flip side to that is how I’ve chosen to miss more than one planned vacation since I joined Soloshot (many of us have).
Work-life integration doesn’t mean you don’t have to make choices.
You just have to make the hard decision (whether pro-work or pro-relationship), and move on without dwelling on it or worrying about balance. Just make the fun choice when you have the chance.
This is how I’m practicing work-life integration in a super tactical sense while in China:
- Sleep as much as I can, even if it’s not perfect
- Melatonin, magnesium, and blackout curtains
- Exercise consistently
- It makes me feel good, helps me sleep better, and reduces stress.
- Eat as close to how I would at home in terms of quantity and nutrient density.
- That doesn’t mean I don’t try new things, but it’s not vacation. So, I eat things that make me feel my best even if that means eating the same one plate of food everyday when an endless breakfast buffet is just across the room.
- Take time to intentionally relax in ways that feel luxurious and special
- Manicures (really cheap here), lay by the pool with a book, take a bath, etc.
- Visit new places and try new things as much as feels good
- Sometimes it feels fun and sometimes it feels stressful. I listen to my gut and travel accordingly.
(I consider these work-life integration because they are things that contribute to my overall happiness and quality of life. Yours will likely be different!)
My last three comments on work-life integration:
- Be kind to yourself. It’s okay to work really hard and be stressed about work. It’s part of committing and caring. Give yourself the grace to rest and don’t compare the amount of rest or play you need to someone else. That's not about trying to be "balanced" - it's simply not being a martyr.
- There’s no work life and regular life. There’s only one life so do whatever you can to love the one you have.
- Many times, even if you love your job, it's just plain hard work and not very fun. That doesn't mean you don't have work-life integration. It probably just means you're doing something worthwhile.
Lean on the people who love you when it gets hard, and keep doing important work.