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Beyond Life Balance — How To Truly Succeed By Integrating Your Life and Work

Updated on February 4, 2014

Balance? Or Integration?

To Balance? Or To Integrate?
To Balance? Or To Integrate?

An Integrated Life Is More Successful than Work Life Balance!

"The things we fear most—fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances—are the primary sources of creativity."

— Margaret J. Wheatley

The key to creating real and lasting success in life, work, relationships, and other aspects of your life is to integrate those elements, don't try to balance them. Integrity is more important than work life balance.

Many clients who come to me for coaching help feel that their lives (or some parts of them) are difficult, cluttered, and discordant. Worse, they feel guilty because they can't "balance" all the parts of their work and life.

Don't feel bad. You can balance a clock, car wheels, and sometimes a seesaw, but it's hard to balance life and work. And creating a balanced life is a lot harder than balancing a seesaw. Achieving work life balance is like trying to balance a multi-board seesaw on the deck of a boat in rolling a storm. It is not really possible, and, if you did manage, would that give you what you really wanted?

As Margaret Wheately says above, lifes disturbances and imbalances are what make it interesting and lead to creativity, innovation, and successful life and work.

When questioned, most of my clients agree they'd rather create an integrated life—a dynamic, yet integral, harmonious and coherent life—rather than a static, balanced life.

The second definition of "balance" in the Concise Oxford is "to cancel out."

In nature, balance often means death. Experts tell us that living systems exist "far from equilibrium." In frigid Artic air, for example, your body maintains a temperature far from balance with the outside air. In the hot Tropics, it does the same. If it didn't, you'd die.

Instead of leading to harmony and success, trying to balance life and work can "cancel out" both of them. You end up either oscillating back and forth between one and the other -- or stuck in a lifeless comprimise between them.

Why Do People Seek Work Life Balance?

People seek balance when their desires or values compete. Work vs. Life? Career vs. Family? Simplicity vs. Success? Material goods vs. Spiritual Gain?

Trying to achieve both desires in equal, balanced measures, can lead to too much back and forthing between those desires. And even if you achieved work life balance, what would you have? A static, lifeless state, which could soon become boring.

Most such attempts to produce balance lead to seesaw-like behavior. Balance is precarious. A slight amount of pressure on one side of a seesaw tips it into imbalance. And seesaws balance just 2 things!

In life, we're trying to balance multiple things. For example, have you seen one of those wheel of life diagrams? There's no way you can "balance" all those diverse aspects of your life. And, think about it, would you really want to?

So, what’s the alternative? All work and no family? Simplicity but no success?

No. The alternative is to integrate the parts into a satsifying, integral whole.

Integrate Your Life - Make SureThe PIeces Support A Whole That Matters To You

To integrate means, to "combine (parts) into a whole." When you combine diverse parts of your life into an integrated whole, things become simpler. Life becomes simpler. Discord and difficulty give way to opportunity. Life becomes coherent. It flows. Harmony emerges.

Take an Olympic athlete, for example. By organizing her life around what most matters most, she lives a far-from-balanced life. Her sport—training and performance—predominates. But sport does not drive out the other parts of her life. Indeed, sport becomes the integrating factor in her life.

She still has friends. She does yoga. She goes to church. She maintains a special relationship, often works at a day job, and may even go to school. But because she integrates these diverse aspects of her life so that they support her predominant athletic goals, her life becomes whole and harmonious.

With a little practice, and clear focus, you can do the same thing.

Rather than force different parts of your life to balance with each other, your life will be simpler, more successful, and harmonious if you arrange the less important parts of your life to support the most important parts.

Instead, for example, of making yourself "jog 30 minutes a day," and hating it, you'd do better to envision the fit, healthy, and vital body you would love to have. Then, focused on that vision, organize as many parts of your life as you can to support that vision coming into reality.

You could start walking a little every day. As you get fitter, you could start jogging or cycling, until you can do 30 minutes a day. At some point, you could use your increased fitness to ski, dance, do Pilates, or other physical things with friends.

You could bring your eating habits in line with your vision of vitality. Become a non-smoker. Instead of hanging out with drinkers at a bar or bon-bon eaters in cafés, you could hang out with like-minded fitness lovers at the Y, Curves, or running clubs. Heck, if you're really adventurous, you could join a sport climbing club. Then, when life got confusing, you could literally go climb a wall!

Further integrating things you like to do around fitness, you could read about exercise, health, and spirit. You could goo to events that inspire you to stretch, to increase your capacity. As getting fit gradually becomes something you love, you will find that it engages your whole self. It enables your head, hands, and heart to come together in an integrated way.

The confidence that you could generate from physical success could enable you to stretch in other areas of your life. You could take on challenges, develop new capacities, and integrate those into an adventurous life, one lived from your deepest values and highest goals.

You can use the same integration technique with various aspects of your work. Make sure the less important things are done in ways that support the most important.

As your whole life becomes more integrated, you will find that it becomes simpler and more successful, more harmonious and joyful. It becomes integral: whole. Wordsworth put it most beautifully: "With an eye made quiet by the power/ Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,/ We see into the life of things."

To create joy and harmony in your life, focus on what matters most. Put first things first and then integrate your time and actions so they support what truly matters to you. If you do this well, your life will flow. You will feel whole, all of a piece. You'll feel more relaxed, even as you get more done, with less effort. Instead of being a sad lament, your life will sing like a sweet sounding chorus.

So, don't struggle to balance your life, or work, or relationships. Think about integrating them. Out of integration will emerge the harmony, coherence and fulfillment you long for. And from that base, you will find it far easier to create the success that truly matters to you -- in life, work, relationships … whatever you choose!

Bruce Elkin is the author of Simplicity and Success and 2 other books. He is an internationally acclaimed Personal & Professional Life/Work Renewal Coach with 20 years experience. Free eNewsletter.

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    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Thanks for the very supportive comment, izettl. I appreciate it. And I really like the use of the term "blend." May I borrow it?

      Juggling kids and job is soo difficult, and many don't appreciate it. I do wish you all the best!

    • izettl profile image

      Laura Izett 9 years ago from The Great Northwest

      This is a wonderful hub. In my opinion there is no such thing as successful life/work balance. One always suffers. I am a former working mom (which seems like an oxymoron). Both life and family need 100% of you. I am starting a kids consignment business hoping to blend (not balance) my work and my family. Thanks for your words of encouragement!

      Juggling kids and a job is excruciatingly difficult because jobs in the US demand they be your priority even when you kids are sick. Our values have really gone downhill.