Seeking Work Life Balance? Try Integral Life Fulfillment Instead

I grew up believing I could have it all and do it all (brace yourself for the epic reality check later in life). There is a family story that my parents tell.  When I was 2 years old, I was taking a little walk in a neighborhood called “Bolonia” near La Paz, Bolivia, where my grandparents lived. We reached a little hill, and my parents, who were with me, watched me try to climb up it, stumbling and grunting.  

I turned to them and said “No puedo” (I can’t).

They told me “Todo puedes” (You can do anything).  And they stayed with me and encouraged me until I made it up that little hill.  That mentality pretty much stuck with me, and it has served me well over the years both academically and professionally.  

It didn’t prepare me though, for meeting the challenges, expectations and demands of being a working parent (enter epic reality check).  Managing a household with two working parents, two active boys, going to graduate school, caring for my marriage, growing my career, and living a life I enjoyed was not easy.  That mentality of doing it all simply kept me wanting to somehow fit all of the activities that come with each of those buckets into my life. You can guess how successful I was with that.

Of course, I would never be able to fit it all in.  We only have 24 hours in a day, and maybe 10 of those are spent sleeping, eating, cooking, and making sure the kids are fed (basics y’all).  When they were smaller, the “basics” also included making sure they had their naps, changing diapers, bathing them and putting them to bed and a whole bedtime routine every night.  Now that they are bigger it means mindfully striking a balance between being a helpful parent and letting them learn from their mistakes. Add daycare, the logistics of drop-off and pick-up, after-school kid activities, commuting to work, working, wanting to GROW in my career, honoring my own non-work interests, partnering with my husband to manage our household, our finances, and care for our marriage, and it’s easy to get to a point where I realized, in fact, “No puedo”.  

A key element of resilience is successfully integrating elements of career and personal interests into a meaningful life.  Over time, I found my own method of managing these elements in a way that works for me. As a coach, I have partnered with countless working parents to develop a career vision and plan they love, to reflect on their lives holistically, identify their key values, and prioritize those pieces and areas of their lives they choose to centralize and honor daily.  There is no one plan that looks the same for everyone. As a coach, I work with you to develop what YOUR vision of “work and life fulfillment” looks like.

I have intentionally not titled this blog “On Work/Life Balance”, because I hate the term “work/life balance”, and choose to use the term “integral life fulfillment” instead.  Tracy Brower writes an excellent article on this point, “We Need to Stop Striving for Work/Life Balance.  Here’s Why”.  First of all, the concept falsely separates “work” from the rest of your life.  As working parents, our work is an INTEGRAL part of our lives; it cannot be separated.  We live in a reality where we seek to find joy, meaning and fulfillment in four, not just two categories: work, community, family, and our own well-being.  This is why I prefer “integral life”, which combines all of these categories.

The second key change is that I do not like the term “balance”.  The term leads to an image of someone precariously juggling all the pieces of their lives while walking on a high wire, with catastrophe waiting at the slightest misstep.  While we cannot always do everything we want to do, we can prioritize and find ways to honor those elements, even in small ways, that are meaningful to us.

Lastly, why settle for balance?  Why not fulfillment? Words matter, and in this case I believe “balance” sets the bar too low.

Life has taught me that you can’t fit everything into 24 hours.  It has also taught me that you CAN prioritize and then centralize the things you value most to create a life and a career that you love.  

From that perspective, “todo podemos” (we all can do anything).

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