In today’s episode, Anna breaks down the common-but-illogical concept of work-life balance and exploring the more useful idea of work-life integration.
The phrase ‘work-life balance’ means different things to different people I think. What does ‘work’ represent exactly – time spent in the office? And ‘life’ presumably means personal life? But it’s unclear if we mean by that, spending time with your partner and your children, having time for your hobbies, maybe just taking a break from your office work…? And then ‘balance’ – what is balance? Is it some proportion of each of the two things? Usually we’re talking about shifting in the direction of more life, less work… but then how do you measure that exactly? And is it 50-50 or is it some other mix? And who decides what are the correct percentages? Too much work and you die of a heart attack or at least end up sad and alone and too much life and your money might run out…
For me, work-life *integration* is a more meaningful concept.
*Resources mentioned during the episode*
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Hello, hello, and welcome back to the Reimagining Success podcast. Now I’m going to be shifting gears a little bit as we begin to look at work-life integration. And if you have been following me for a while, you’ll know that this is the fifth pillar of the five pillars of a sustainable escape plan. Five pillars of a sustainable business. And the fact that it’s fifth and final does not mean that it’s any less important. And it’s something that I’m very passionate about. It’s become very important in my life. It’s something I work closely with clients on as well. And I think it’s quite a unique look at this. So hopefully you’ll find this interesting and very valuable whatever stage of your career and business you’re at. This is going to be hopefully very thought provoking and from a very practical standpoint, really helpful in terms of really blending your work and your life, and really making sure that your work and your business in particular is fitting in around everything else in your life.
Now, we have been looking more at sort of business models and how to get through COVID, diversifying, strengthening, pivoting. We’ve looked at developing a brand platform and really… Last week, in fact, we looked at the internal stories we’re telling ourselves. So this is again, a little bit of a shift looking at, okay, fine. We’re working on these business models and branding and so on, but hang on a second. There’s a lot of other things going on. How can we make it all work? So today I want to kick this off by looking at the idea of work-life balance, which I’m sure is a phrase that you’re familiar with, and why there is no such thing. So let’s see if you agree. So, work-life balance is one of those phrases that gets thrown around so much. I’m not even sure we know what it means anymore.
It means different things to different people I think. Certainly work – what does work represent? Life presumably means personal life. But it’s unclear if we mean by that, spending time with your partner and your children, having time for your hobbies, maybe just taking a break from your office work. And then balance, what is balance? Is it some proportion of each of the two things? Is it more life, less work usually. But then how do you measure that exactly? And is it 50-50 or is it some other mix? And who decides what are the correct percentages? Too much work and you die of a heart attack or at least end up sad and alone and too much life and your money might run out. So, there’s some idea of some kind of calibration, but not quite sure where that is.
And it’s something I’ve started looking at actually… already I’m seeing my first blog post on this five years ago. So it’s interesting to see how my thoughts have evolved on it since then. As I said, from doing lots of work on this myself, as well as with clients. And in the corporate world, which is sort of where I came across it probably first, it’s something that certainly companies are paying a lot of lip service too. I’m not sure if that means it’s really embedded in the culture and if it’s something they really care about. But it’s often representing something quite superficial, like having time to go to the gym after work, having dinner with your family before, let’s face it, going back to your emails afterwards. Playing golf with your friends on Sundays. And one of my many favourites, TED Talks by Nigel Marsh.
It’s hilarious. He’s very funny, very witty. It’s how to make work-life balance work. And as he says, being a fit 10 hour a day office rat, isn’t more balanced, it’s more fit. So, the fact that you have a bit of time to go to the gym doesn’t mean that you suddenly have incredible work-life balance. And we can think, believe maybe that our employers do care about our health and our family, but I want to slightly cynically suggest that maybe they only care, at least made traditional companies, only care in so far as those things make us better employees. So, work we’re going to work harder, be more productive and more profitable ultimately. That’s always going to be the priority.
And I know… A story for example, my mom told about a colleague of hers. She was incredibly unhappy in her job and really longed for retirement. And this idea of work-life balance across time as well, right? So you work hard when you’re young and then you can retire and enjoy your life. Now tragically, this colleague, when she reached retirement age was diagnosed with a brain tumour and she passed away soon thereafter. And so, one little anecdotal story, and I’m sure you have come across others, but the idea of postponing your life until when you can retire, until you’ve earned a certain amount of money, until you’ve done whatever it is you feel you need to do in your work is very risky. And it’s certainly very unbalanced. I’m looking back again on my article from 2015 and I came across the resignation memo from the CFO of Google at the time, Patrick Pichette. And I’d love to look up how he’s doing now. So maybe you can do the same and see how he’s progressed since then.
But he explained in the memo that he had this epiphany on Kilimanjaro and that led him to quit his job, to travel the world with his wife.
Now great. But unfortunately his children were already grown up. They’d moved out and maybe his wife might feel like it’s a little bit too little too late. And my other question is, would he actually be happy with this as a longer term lifestyle? Or would he, like many other corporate sort of ambitious, lifelong stressed people, want to be tempted back into work and maybe being on some board or getting involved in some new projects and so on, right. So I’d be really curious to see what he’s up to now. So I’ll definitely have a look for him, Patrick Pichette from Google.
But then of course, that’s one end of the spectrum, the really corporate machine working hard until retirement and even in retirement, you’re doing consulting and so on. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Tim Ferris. One of the first books I came across in deciding to, I guess, leave my job. And so, and I’m sure some of you will be familiar with his book the four hour work week. And for me that the thing I took away from that as much as I loved the sort of idea of what he was talking about and is very new, it felt like it was about setting up a business that’s so automated that you can remove yourself from the business and go off and learn tango or learn to whatever or go travelling. And for me, that’s equally disingenuous because while I love travelling, I love learning, I also enjoy the challenge of work. And I want to work with clients and colleagues and see the results and have a meaning, have a purpose.
And I know some people do like to keep work and life separate. But I actually, I don’t know about you, but I want to enjoy my work as much as I also want to challenge myself and learn new things in my personal life. So for me, doing something like buying and selling protein powder or coffee beans or whatever, just with the sole aim of making money is never going to appeal to me as a business proposition. And that’s certainly no judgement for others who just want to do that and then live their life. But for me, I’m looking for… And I work with clients on finding our ikigai and finding work, creating work, designing a business that is meaningful, that we enjoy, that uses our skills, that has an impact and that brings us money.
And in fact, I think that the entire construct of ‘work-life balance’ is completely artificial. It doesn’t make sense to me and more to the point is impossible to achieve. It’s not possible to separate work and life. They’re not mutually exclusive, like life over here and death over there or sleep here and awakeness there. Work is a part of life and it’s an important part of life, but it’s only a part of life, one of many, whether we’re talking the standard definition of the 9 to 5 in the office work or some kind of modern idea of remote/virtual offices, working for yourself, running your own business and on on. Let’s face it, if you hate the hours that you’re spending working, whether it’s four hours or 40 or more, no amount of life after work is going to make up for that. But also, if you could give up work with no thought of earning an income, I think it’s unlikely you’d find it fulfilling to just bum around all the time. As much as that seems tempting right now, I don’t think we’d want to do that longer term.
And I’m sure you’ve heard as I have that most people who win the lottery choose to stay in their jobs because they want some degree of normality, but they want to have that belonging with their colleagues and they do actually enjoy certain parts of their work.
And we often talk about millennials wanting this kind of portfolio. And I talk about portfolio career, but not just portfolio career, but sort of lifestyle work is one pursuit, but they also want to run ultra marathons and travelled the world and write books and do TED talks and so on. So the sort of traditional work is just one element of that portfolio.
And so it’s not such so much a question of just work versus life as an overall sense of balance across those different aspects of life that keep you challenged and fulfilled, that makes sure that you’re earning money to live your life, that you’re not selling your soul, that lets you spend time by yourself sometimes but also with friends, with family. You indulge and have a lovely luxury time and so on, but you also stay fit and you eat healthily and so on. You learn new skills, you have new experiences, whatever else. You have some rest and relaxation at some point as well.
And although I won’t go into the model now, hopefully if you’ve been, again, listening the podcast for a while, you’ll know all about my five L’s model and that’s something that came out of this work. In fact, it’s something I developed for a conference where I was speaking a digital nomad conference a few years ago in Barcelona. But it’s an idea or a concept to help you move away from thinking just about work and certainly just about sort of work versus life and think about what I call the five L’s. So again, I won’t go into this in detail – there are lots of episodes on this model overall and individually, each of the L’s.
Just as a reminder, it’s live love, learn, lead, laugh.
So live, wellness and wellbeing. Love, relationships and romance. Live, love, learn, development and growth. Lead, career and impact, which is all around work, yes, but it’s in the sense of doing meaningful work and having an impact. And the final L is laugh, so fun and spontaneity, hobbies and things that you do, hopefully, that have nothing to do with goals and purpose and so on. You just do it to enjoy life. So those models or those L’s in that model rather, is intended to demonstrate that balance across different areas. So again, work and life, they’re not two areas for me. Work is a part of life. So work is a part of that wheel, but there’s also your health and wellbeing, relationships, not just in the sense of love and the sexy stuff, but also belonging in your community and friends and colleagues and peers and so on.
Learning new things, whether that’s a language or the ukulele, or learning to podcast, for example. Making an impact in your career and again, having fun enjoying yourself. So ultimately this is, let’s face it, a big choice of how you want to live your life. How much work do you want to do? What kind of work do you want to do and need to do maybe in order to live the lifestyle you’re after. What are you going to choose to prioritise? How are you going to fill your time when you’re working, when you’re not working? And if you’re feeling sort of a sense of imbalance right now, where you versus where you want to be, it doesn’t mean that you have to make drastic changes. You don’t have to quit your job, take a year off necessarily.
You can also take small steps that can make huge difference. And I always say in order to get closer to that big vision that you have, there are two ways to do that. One is to take little steps, moving in that direction. So take action, move towards your vision. The other is to take elements of that vision and bring them back into your life today. So maybe you can’t yet achieve that full vision, but you can do little versions of that today. So micro-holidays or trips or whatever that might look like, right. So again, I think I referred to Viktor Frankl and man’s search for meaning. Certainly I’ve talked about him in the past. And he was a survivor of the Holocaust who wrote a book on the insight that he had from his research as to the meaning in your life is what gives you that purpose and reason for living rather than something more trivial like happiness. And happiness might not seem so trivial, but you can see that meaning purpose much more profound.
And one of my favourites quotes from him is, “Ultimately man” (-and woman, I should add) “should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognise that it is he who is asked.” So we’re not looking for the meaning of life, capital M capital L, here. We’re just recognising that, hey, I need to ask the question what my meaning is and that can and will live [inaudible 00:12:17] time. Because if I don’t answer that question, if I don’t make these choices, big and small, then someone else is going to make them for me and I may not like the result. So that’s a little on work-life balance and why that doesn’t exist.
Now, I mentioned at the beginning my concept of work-life integration. And It might seem like semantics and I’ve also seen some articles saying, “Oh, it’s BS, it’s the same thing.” Or “It’s just a theoretical construct, it doesn’t really make sense.” For me, I interpret in the same way and I have found it useful for me and my clients. So you don’t need to tell me, or rather the other way round, I don’t need to tell you that the boundaries between work and personal life have become more blurred. Technology means that we can message friends on Facebook while we’re in the office, watch Tik Tok videos, whatever we’re onto now. Just like we can also check emails from home while we’re on holiday and so on. Work-life integration is not about blurring those boundaries and working all the time and playing all the time. It’s not about doing everything all the time. That for me doesn’t work. Although I have tried that model and it certainly hasn’t worked for me.
It’s not about working during holiday. It’s not about having fun and faffing around on the internet when you’re meant to be working. For me, work-life integration is about enjoying the time you spend working as well as the time when you’re not. And it’s about finding fulfilment in your personal life, just as you do in your career, in your business. It’s blending your personal and professional worlds that they coexist as a coherent whole. So for me, it’s about showing up authentically, being wholehearted, being myself in business as at home. So I’m not, take the extreme, dressing up in a suit going to really strict traditional corporate office for work hours and having to perform in a certain way. And then in my own time, I’m suddenly tattoos and pink hair and everything comes out, right. I’m not two different people. I’m me, I’m Anna.
And hopefully you can tell that I’m speaking to you very naturally here as I do in my lives and workshops in my Facebook group as I do with my colleagues and my clients. And I’m being professional and I’m working hard but I am enjoying myself. I’m loving what I do. And I’m finding this work meaningful, impactful, and fulfilling. However, I also have goals in my personal life and I also find that enjoyable and fulfilling. And for me, the integration is making these two things work for you. So it’s not about, okay, I’m in the office from nine until five, from eight to eight whatever, and the commute and so on. It’s not following that strict rigid structure, it’s finding a way redesigning this to work for you. It’s really quite sort of an archaic system. The nine to five, the 40 hours.
In fact, in the past, I think researchers and economists thought that, that would be long gone, the 40 hour work week. It was initially a good thing. It was an improvement versus the endless hours that people were working in factories and so on before. I think unfortunately because of electric lighting, artificial lighting, it was possible to work in the factories longer hours and so on. It didn’t work so well for the employees. So 40 hours seemed less at the time, but now technology should have made it possible to work much less. And in fact, I’ve come across the statistic that people generally only work less than three hours productively a day. And if that’s the case, we certainly shouldn’t be commuting to the office, wasting time on the M25 and the train, whatever and then sitting in the office for those eight to nine, 10 hours, whatever it is, twiddling our thumbs.
And I know we’re not twiddling our thumbs, but ultimately the impact we’re having could be had in a small amount of time.
And the question is, of course, do you want to be in that job that is only a job that you don’t particularly enjoy. That sort of gives you a sense of meaning because every job, most jobs do, you can find a sense of meaning in any job, however much you dislike it or dislike your colleagues or the work culture or whatever. But is that what you want to do? So for me, work-life integration, again, it’s about being yourself, being wholehearted and finding fulfilment in your personal life and in your work and your career and your business, enjoying yourself in the office and outside of the office. And again, of course, coming back to that blend of the five L’s as well.
So although I’m still using the work-life construct, I guess, so I’m being a bit cheeky because I said that that was an artificial dichotomy. It’s just using that as a concept that links to work-life balance. And again, is I think much more meaningful and going to be much more valuable to you. Now we’ll look much more in terms of practicalities of how to make this work for you in the coming weeks and months.
But of course, the last question I want to leave you with today is what does that look like for you? So say it with me. You know I’m going to always ask you this. What does success look like for you? The first step has to be decide on what you’re trying to achieve. What would that ideal work-life integration look like for you and your family. And by the way, that’s going to evolve over time and that’s okay. But really thinking about right now, within the next few weeks, months, the year, I want to be working three days a week. I want to be taking three months off ultimately a year. I never want to work Friday afternoons. I always want to be able to take the kids from school. I never want to miss a theatre performance or sports event or whatever. Never want to work Sundays and so on, right? So you can see how we can go from the big picture of what I want my life to look like right down to the logistics of the day-to-day, hour-by-hour almost, logistics of how you live that life.
But again, hopefully this has sparked some thoughts for you. As ever you can get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. email@example.com. I’d love to hear what you think of this idea of work-life integration. If you agree with me that work-life balance doesn’t exist and it’s impossible. And any questions you have, I suppose, about your specific scenario, your specific situation, your goals and how you might be able to make that work in practical terms because that’s what we’ll be looking at in the coming weeks as well. So thanks so much for listening and I look forward to continuing the series with you. Bye for now.
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