Many years back, I led classes on Stephen Covey’s “Principle Centered Leadership” for Accenture’s managers. Over 75 percent of the attendees said that achieving balance in their life was their number one reason for taking the course. This is not surprising given the fast pace of life today. But what does balance mean?
Balance implies two opposing forces that reach equilibrium. This is not easy to do. Remember when you were a kid trying to balance with someone else on a seesaw? Either you were up or you were down. But rarely were you balanced. In life, either we are working hard or playing hard at any given moment. But we rarely are in balance. And when most refer to work/life balance being out of alignment, it is typically not because they are enjoying too much play and not enough work.
Maybe balance is not the solution. So what’s the alternative? Integration.
Find ways of integrating your work and personal life together. In doing this, you free up more time, you gain new interests, and your life becomes whole rather than piecemeal. One simple example is that of a professional speaker who loves golf. He now includes golf lessons as one of his client offerings. He gets to do what he loves while making money.
This concept applies to increasing time for relationships. Find ways of doing things together with your partner: Hobbies, interests, chores, or even work. A husband and wife I know never had time for one another. But when they learned about integration, they began to get actively involved in each other’s interests. He now takes cooking lessons with her, and she goes golfing with him. They created time by integrating their activities, enabling them to have more time for their individual pursuits.
How can you begin to integrate the pieces of your life?
First, look at what things interest you most. Next, ask how you can shift your daily schedule to embed these activities into what you do regularly. This will require some creative thinking. Finally, have the courage to ask for what you want.
Many years ago, I decided I wanted to be a professional speaker and an author. Instead of leaving the security of my consulting job, I decided to shift my responsibilities to include writing and speaking as part of my job. Unfortunately, this role did not exist. I needed to create a position that was of value to the organization—and then have the courage to ask for it and make it happen. I did and my idea grew into a 20,000-person organization. As part of my job, I wrote a book that was sold to 40,000 consultants and clients. I was giving as many as 100 speeches a year to tens of thousands of people. This eventually led to a book deal with a major publisher, which I used to launch my professional speaker career.
I know of a young couple that radically integrated their passions with work. Gary is a door-to-door salesman. While enjoyable for him, admittedly his job was not his passion. His passion is travel, and like most Americans, he squeezes this love into one, maybe two weeks over the course of a year.
One night, after a particularly difficult day on the job, Gary and his wife Deb, engaged in a conversation as to how he could create more passion within his career. It was unacceptable for them to wait for retirement or a windfall of money to land in their account. They wanted to live their dreams now, while they could.
It just so happened that Gary’s job could allow him to work anywhere within the country. It was in that moment that the decision was made. They rolled up their sleeves, did a bit of research, sold their home, and purchased a 38-foot motor home so that they could hit the road and do his door-to-door job, state-by-state.
Initially, the thought of living in a giant box for a year was a bit daunting for Deb. So it was her turn to explore her passions. Having been involved with numerous charitable organizations in the past, and having let that slip in recent years, she longed to get back into the community to make a difference. It occurred to Deb that they would be a rolling billboard, and there had to be a way to leverage this given their continuous travel schedule. It didn’t take long for Deb to partner with a charitable foundation to create a yearlong, nationwide awareness tour.
Your efforts toward integration don’t need to be that grandiose. Perhaps you enjoy reading in your spare time, however spare time is limited. Consider listening to books on tape during your work commute to satisfy your literary interests. If you want to stay fit, but never have time to get to the gym, take the stairs instead of the elevator in the office, or ask co-worker to hold a meeting while power walking around the local park instead of sitting in a boardroom.
Work/life balance is a misnomer. So how do you get more out of life? Integration. This concept can be done for anyone in any position. All it requires is a bit of creative thinking, some risk taking, and asking for what you want.