Melissa Fairman at HRRemix posted yesterday on the notion of work-life integration. She recently came by an article explaining this concept by Craig Chappelow. In her post, she makes the point that this idea makes much more sense than work-life balance, as gaining balance in our complex lives just doesn’t seem likely.
This is something I have been thinking about quite a bit lately, and Melissa’s explanation helped clarify it for me more. As a result, I’d like to suggest taking this one step further, and take the word “work” out of the label. In fact, I think the issue is about having a life plan. Work is a part of life, not an equal to balance.
The first ten years of my career, I lived alone and had little pressures outside of work. I had hobbies, a couple circles of friends, and of course my relationships with my parents and siblings. But no one relied on me on a day-to-day basis outside of work.
When I married, I not only had a spouse, but two children as well. Suddenly I had dance recitals, hockey practice, and soccer coaching as part of my life. We decided to have another child, and all the while I was still growing my career. Learning more and gaining new experiences. Travel became a little more of a challenge, and when it came time to move for a different job, the whole family had to be part of the consideration. I missed key meetings at work due to child illness or a graduation, and I never worried about it. I also missed a football game or two due to travel and late-night problem-solving. I spent 9 months traveling nearly weekly at one point. I was comfortable that those decisions were consistent with what I needed to do at the time.
Today, as my wife and I approach our twenty-fifth anniversary, I think that the only important aspect of this is that we are trying to manage to a life plan. Work serves two purposes for me: it provides an income for us to live according to that plan, and it also challenges me to be creative in problem solving with the businesses I partner with. I am fortunate to enjoy what I do, and we as a family are fortunate to have decided early on what level of lifestyle we wanted to maintain. This kept us from the spiral of bigger and bigger houses, newer cars, every new gadget (although I still WANT every new gadget), and spending without regard to the longer term view. I have developed a couple of hobbies that will keep me busy well past my departure from traditional work, although retirement for me will more likely mean working on my schedule, and because I enjoy it, not because I need to do it.
Our life plan included supporting our children’s education, but it also included limiting that support and helping them make informed choices on how to spend for that education. It didn’t include supporting parents, but my mother-in-law lived with us quite a bit of the time in the 6 years before she passed. We adapted our plan accordingly. If you have a plan, then you can integrate. Then you can balance according to the plan. If you always expect to achieve the next level of income, you won’t integrate well and your plan is at risk. We never had “maximize our income” as a specific objective. We had “make enough to enjoy and save” as an objective.
There is no doubt that we each have different circumstances. No one’s life goes exactly to plan, and when we get off plan, it can be very hard to get things back in order. People who lost their jobs in the recession had to re-think their plans. They couldn’t just delay things and hope for a new job with the same income. You may have heard this before, but hope is not a strategy.
I recommend, regardless of your age, to take a look at your plan. Not your career plan, your life plan. You don’t have to work until you die, you just need to be realistic about how much you need to save and how you want to live both now and in the future. If you want to work and not retire, because retirement seems empty to you, then fine, plan accordingly. But if you don’t want to work for someone else, on someone else’s schedule forever because you have other things you know you’ll want to do, then figure it out, make the plan, and then work the plan.
If you are looking for a few pointers to get started, head over to Melissa’s post and read the three bullet points. I think they are absolutely dead-on.