Ying Zhao Liu, Design Director at LinkedIn and zen temple resident, recently said at the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco, "Balance is a zero sum game that we cannot win. Instead, we must focus on integration...balance implies scarcity, integration implies abundance."
I found her statement to be brilliant. I often struggle with compartmentalizing my life, labeling the different parts as "family", "work", "hobbies", "friends", as if they fit into neat little boxes within my world. If one box expands, another by necessity shrinks. And the true reality is that all of those boxes are constantly overflowing, each email and blog post and birthday treat vying for my energy and attention.
This is why the idea of work life integration speaks to my core. I love the idea that who I am, in all of the different parts of my life, is one and the same. The psychiatrist in me influences how I mother, and the mother in me influences how I treat patients. The writer in me helps me create the narratives of my life, bringing creativity and awareness to all parts of my being. Trying to prioritize these identities within me in the quest for "balance" feels like trying to pry apart the five fingers on my hand.
When we speak of integration, we can think of our whole selves operating in all of the different spheres of our lives. The growth of one part only benefits the greater whole. This resonates with me so much more than the idea of balance, where it feels like the different parts of me compete for a finite amount of attention. Integration implies that we have the resources and the energy that we need. There is time, because we will always find a way, eventually, to create space for that which feels important to us.
So how can we bring a little more integration into the fullness of everyday life? Here are three tips to maintain that sense of connection as we navigate our careers, families, and everything else:
1. Stay Present: When we are working, work with full presence and awareness. And when we are with our families, be there with full presence and awareness. When dinner is interrupted by work calls, or work is interrupted by a sense of guilt at missing a class volunteer opportunity, we start to feel fragmented and exhausted. Wherever you are, occupy that moment and that role as fully as you can by tuning into your breath, or feeling your feet on the floor.
2. Find Meaning: No matter the nature of our work, we can almost always connect to a deeper meaning or purpose. Why do we do what we do? How do we serve a need within us, or a need in the world outside of us? What is our little corner of the world? When we can connect to our work as important and meaningful, we can bring our whole heart to what we do. Our work becomes less of a "job", and more an extension of who we are.
3. Allow Rest: When we are motivated and involved, life moves forward at full speed. We give all of ourselves at work, and to our family and friends. We exercise, we volunteer, we cook, we care for parents and children and animals. No matter how integrated life feels, when there is just too much life, things start to fall apart at the seams. Make sure you are building in time for self care and rest. Create time to do nothing at all. Find time to just be. Take things off of the to do list. We all have at least ten or fifteen minutes in a day to decompress and allow ourselves to rest and relax completely in mind, body, and spirit.
Integrating work into the fabric of who we are and our broader lives allows for less fatigue, less burnout, and greater overall satisfaction. How each of us weaves the strands of our lives together varies based on who we are and what is important to each of us. The beauty lies in our ability to be fully who we are, always.