The Behaviorist: In work versus life, integration can supplant balance

Twelve years ago, I wrote a book that embraced the gospel of work-life balance. Melding personal experience and research about burnout, I recommended a way to prevent others from hitting the wall.

I encouraged sequencing and prioritizing in order to separate, with impenetrable boundaries, family life from work life. I suggested concrete actions like quitting work obligations, uni-tasking, reducing social circles, taking a less stressful position, spending and wanting less through voluntary simplicity, unplugging and even metaphorically throwing one’s BlackBerry into Walden Pond. 

A decade later and I’m back in the game full throttle. Due to technological advances, a whole new way of working has emerged, illustrating a very different approach to preventing burnout, one that actually integrates the joy of work into one’s whole life. Work isn’t the rival of life after all.

Instead of work-life balancing, which pits two key elements of one’s identity against each other (career versus personal) in a losing battle of binary thinking, I now work to integrate my work, home, community and private identities in consistent, authentic, congruent, collaborative and mutually beneficial ways. The various threads of my life can bolster and reinforce each other. With work-life integration, the career and family are in the same boat, rowing together in the same direction, working with the same set of values toward the same goal. 

Flourishing in all facets of our lives is enhanced by clearly framing our purpose. By taking inventory of those painful, crucible moments that have strengthened us, the unique experiences that have shaped our perspectives, the types of knowledge that stick to us, our deepest character strengths and the messages that we almost supernaturally, passionately deliver, we can begin to know what we are positioned to accomplish.

Many people find their overarching life’s purpose is most clearly illuminated once they allow themselves to begin noticing what epically frustrates or even angers them. There’s valuable data in that fury, so get curious and mine it for all it’s worth. By discerning your calling and identifying the values that guide your behavior, work becomes one more joyful means of flourishing and accomplishing your overarching purpose. 

Stewart Friedman is spot on in a 2014 Harvard Business Review article in which he explains that the integrated life must adhere to three principles: Be real, be whole and be innovative.

“To be real is to act with authenticity by clarifying what’s important to you,” he wrote. “To be whole is to act with integrity by recognizing how the different parts of your life (work, home, community, self) affect one another. All this examination allows you to be innovative. You act with creativity by experimenting with how things get done in ways that are good for you and for the people around you.”

As you discern your own path, you will no longer fear technology as a source of burnout, as I once did, but see it as a helpful means to achieving your purpose on the planet. Apps can help me get to my goal faster. Smart phones are our friends, not for throwing into transcendental ponds.

I once solved a client’s seemingly intractable problem while I unloaded the dishwasher. My colleague and I outlined a book on an inspiration-seeking road trip to Fallingwater.

It seems that every party, every committee meeting and every walk generates a new idea or client that moves the ball farther down the playing field.

A freeing consequence of this integrated method is that you care less about balancing as you increasingly and joyfully seek to maximize the ROI on your “one wild and precious life,” in the words of the poet Mary Oliver.

Kedren Crosby is president of Work Wisdom LLC, a Lancaster-based firm specializing in organizational culture, communication, collaboration, conflict and coaching. She can be reached at kedren@workwisdomllc.com or 717-327-7780.

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