Recently, I was on a panel at a trade show discussing women in the industrial cleaning industry. One of my fellow panelists, Abby Zaffuto, who is the president of a company that owns and operates eight Rotor Rooter franchises in South Carolina, spoke about how to achieve work/life balance. She gave a brilliantly funny talk and what she said hit home…
There is no such thing as work/life balance; throw that idea out the window. What’s key is integration.
There is so much buzz around work/life balance, especially these days where it’s getting harder and harder to disconnect. And there should be; it can be easy to forget that there is life outside of running around trying to cram a million things into the day; when we hardly have time to take a deep breath, how can we truly engage with the world around us? That being said, finding balance is hard, so hard that the thought of attaining it makes us more anxious. Perhaps balance isn’t what we should be in pursuit of; maybe it’s integration?
So what’s the difference between balance and integration?
Balance is defined as a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions. Integration is the combining of two or more things so that they work together effectively. It’s the process of attaining close and seamless coordination between several departments, groups, organizations, systems, etc.
Integration is not the same as balance.
I don’t know about you, but my life is not filled with elements that are in equal or correct portions. Sometimes I am traveling for two weeks. Sometimes I have to work late. Sometimes I take a 10 day vacation and don’t answer emails. Sometimes I have to take the day off to care for my sick child. I get up early to work for a few hours so I have 20 extra minutes to take my son to school every day. Some nights I have the energy to cook and other nights it’s take-out. This is not balance…this is making it work. That’s why the idea of integration appeals to me.
Perhaps it’s just semantics but for some reason I feel like I can do integration; there’s a chance I can succeed at combining the complicated aspects of my life so that all the pieces work together….at least most of the time. Balance on the other hand is a much more difficult concept. Trying to find balance in my life is like doing backflips on a balance beam with your eyes closed; next to impossible unless you are a world class athlete.
Good or bad, the line between work and the other parts of life is blurred. It’s hard to truly disconnect from the 24/7 aspect of global business. This is why successful integration is so important; you can easily get sucked into the vortex of endless work if you let yourself. So what can you do?
Here are three tips to help you successfully integrate work and life…
I’ve faced the fact that, for me, work/life balance is unattainable. Truth be told, I don’t even know if it’s what I want…and I’ve made peace with this. My goal is to be and do my very best and sometimes that means I have to work more and sometime it means I have to play more. And it always means being a good role model for my son. Blending your aspirations, responsibilities, duties, and some downtime is the key to living a successful, engaged and fulfilling life. It’s the definition of work/life integration.
So here’s to integration, may you achieve seamless coordination in all aspects of your life; it may not be easy but it’s certainly a worthy goal.
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In November 2006, I met my husband for the first time in his chiropractic office after crashing my dirt bike. I emotionally told him about all the events leading up to the accident and his response was, “This accident is the universe telling you to slow down. You are distracted and accidents happen when you aren’t paying attention.”
I will never forget this statement. In that instant, I thought about the big and small “incidents” I had experienced in those past months. Things like smashing my finger in the door, losing my keys, tripping during a run, my car being towed…twice, and most disheartening, getting into two car and now a motorcycle accident. He was right, I was distracted and I could see how the string of bad luck was really me rushing around, worrying about life, thinking about the past, planning the future...everything but paying attention to what I was doing in the moment.
Mindfulness and being present in the NOW is a popular subject these days. Many chalk it up to foo-foo mumbo jumbo, but if we actually stop for a minute and think honestly about the consequences of always being distracted, perhaps it makes more sense to pay more attention to what we are doing when we are doing it. Being more present (aka less distracted) means fewer mistakes, missteps, injuries, and opportunities to put your foot in your mouth. It also means you might enjoy life a little bit more.
Here are a few things I do to try to cut down on the distractions in my life. By no means am I even close to perfect; I am still distracted all the time. But I am better than I was a year ago and leaps and bounds beyond where I was nine years ago. And that, my friends, is the key: constant improvement.
To me, it feels like time is speeding up (how that can actually be, I don’t know). There is always a rush to do more and be more. This year has gone by with gusto, galloping at breakneck speed on its way to the next decade. Living in this fast-paced, technology-driven world, we can easily divert from the present. I think it’s time to put a foot on the brake and distract ourselves from being distracted by paying more attention to living life in the moment.
Check out these videos about the benefits of and science behind mindfulness if you are so inclined. They are short yet very informative.
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Early in my career, I put considerable pressure on myself to “do it all.” If I didn’t have every minute of my day filled with something I considered productive, I felt guilty. This caused me to say yes to everything…board seats, volunteer opportunities, meetings at all times of the day, working long hours…you get the point. I was constantly on the go and while doing all of these things brought me some fulfilment, I was always stressed.
In 2012 when I got pregnant, I decided to change all of this. To me, there is nothing more important that raising an engaged, happy child and nurturing my family. But I also had a demanding job (that I loved) which required a lot of my time and attention. How would I balance these two very important things competing for my time? The only way was to ‘just say no’ to anything that wasn’t family or StoneAge related.
By the time Jack was born at the end of 2012, I had cleared my plate. This was not easy as I felt obligated and responsible for several of the organizations I was involved with. But I also had a deep sense of relief. It felt good to have time to be a mom and a wife, not that I had much of a choice since a newborn doesn’t care if you have work to do or meetings to go to.
Over the last three years, I have stayed true to this commitment (for the most part) and some pretty amazing things have happened. I get to take Jack to school almost every day and play with him when I get home from work. I eat dinner with my family almost every night. I have a great relationship with my husband. I spend time with my mom. I take care of myself by meditating and getting regular massages and acupuncture treatments. I trail run, ride my mountain bike/snowboard (depends on the season), and workout out which is a must for stress relief and fun. I have time to think about StoneAge’s strategy, culture, and growth. I go to work feeling energized and excited about my day. I read books, one of my favorite past times. I have time to speak publicly which is incredibly rewarding. And I am now writing again, something I love to do but just haven’t made time for. And sometimes I just sit with a cup of coffee and look out the window, feeling content that I am not doing anything at all except just being.
Sure I am busy and I work hard. I still make trade-offs and there are times when I have to put work in front of my family. But my life is balanced and I only say yes to the things that are MOST important to me. I am happier and more satisfied than I’ve ever been in my life.
And I’ve gotten really good at saying no.
So where do you start? My suggestion is to make a list of the most important things in your life…the things that you absolutely cannot give up (i.e. family, work, health). Then make a list of what you want your future to look like. I can promise you this…to be the future version of yourself, you must have intention AND take action. If you are too busy to work on the future version of you, it will be hard to get there (for example, I want to write a book someday so I decided I had better start writing more…hence this blog). Then make a list of all the other things you do that aren’t vitally important to your life and all the things you do that don’t help you get to the future version of you. Next to each of those, list a few ways you can shed them from your life. Pick two or three to start with and just say no. It really can be that easy.
I was worried that when I stopped doing so much, people would judge me for not giving back more. Instead, every time I said no and explained why, I received a reply like this: “I wish I would have done that more often.”
Be brave, create your life, and remember, less is more.
A Quick Blurb on what this blog is about.
Welcome to my blog! My name is Kerry Siggins and plain speaking, honest leadership is my mantra. My intention is to help those who lead (or want to lead) become better at saying and doing what needs to be said and done in a way that it can be heard and seen, one person at a time.