Work-life integration looms like a Holy Grail to professionals—and it eludes the many who seek it.
One 2019 study found that more than half of Americans have an unhealthy work-life balance, and there’s no doubt that the pandemic made things even worse. Last year, stress, anger, and the number of “negative experiences” hit a record high as remote work eviscerated already blurry boundaries between work and life.
If everyone’s after the seemingly elusive goal of work-life balance, why is it so darned hard to achieve? Perhaps it’s time to take a new approach to this old problem.
Most people take a “more or less” approach to work-life balance: more of this, less of that. And most people are disappointed by the results. Instead, adjust how you think about the relationship between work and life.
These four mindset shifts will help you to get work and life working together:
1. Integrate and appreciate the whole.
2. Change your default setting.
3. Recognize financial security is foundational.
4. Value time over money.
INTEGRATE AND APPRECIATE THE WHOLE
The first mindset shift toward work-life integration is appreciating the totality of what you have, rather than dwelling on what you don’t have.
Rather than target a delicate and exact work-life equilibrium, which requires constant perfection, change the formula. Fuse the personal and professional spheres of your life into a peaceful coexistence. Integration occurs when your highest priorities and responsibilities blend into a cohesive and comprehensive whole—and your focus is on the whole, not the holes.
CHANGE YOUR DEFAULT SETTING
The second mindset shift is to recognize the juice doesn’t justify the squeeze, so you need to change the default setting.
We habitually operate on an invisible default setting that governs our career and life arcs and that is established in our formative years. Higher education prepares us for prosperous jobs. Then we work feverishly and intensively in ultra-marathon careers in the hope we can exit some 40 years later if we’re lucky. Then we’ll be free to do what we wish we could’ve done all along.
If you were designing an ideal life, is this how you would engineer it? Probably not. Yet this is the default trajectory that most professionals implicitly accept.
RECOGNIZE THAT FINANCIAL SECURITY IS FOUNDATIONAL
We often think of creating financial security as the end goal, the ultimate prize for enduring a long and possibly punishing career ultra marathon. This third mindset shift recognizes that financial security isn’t the destination; it’s the starting point.
When we think we have all the time in the world, we usually take all the time in the world. For many professionals, that typically means taking 40 or so years to achieve some degree of financial security. Why take so long?
Accelerating financial security should be every professional’s urgent priority. Because the faster you create financial security, the faster you create optionality, which is the ability to work and live on your own terms. When work becomes a choice and not an obligation, that’s the ultimate life hack. With a foundation of financial security, it’s much easier to scaffold a life of meaning, relevance, and all that matters.
By recognizing the importance of accelerating financial security, you will likely make vastly different saving and spending decisions today, which puts you on a positive financial trajectory.
VALUE TIME OVER MONEY
The final mindset shift is to flip the time-money equation. Society has a cultural fixation on money, which tends to grab all the attention and suck all the oxygen. But after studying the habits of super successful people all over the world, from billionaires to world-record holders, here’s a million-dollar insight: An enriched life is not about the money.
Numerous studies consistently reveal that the currency of time has the biggest impact on life satisfaction. How we think about time and how we value time correlate with happiness. Whether measuring more time in the day or years in life, more time translates to more happiness.
Valuing time means spending it deliberately, intentionally, purposefully. But here’s the rub: If we really value time, are we satisfied with the career, financial, and life choices we are making today?
CAPTURE THE HOLY GRAIL
It’s time to think differently about work and life. With these four mindset shifts, you’ll be well on your way to seizing that holy grail of work-life balance and professional and personal satisfaction.
Todd Miller, Author, ENRICH: Create Wealth in Time, Money, and Meaning.