Hint: it’s all about bringing more of ourselves to the work.
Have you ever had a job where you didn’t feel like you could show up as yourself each day?
My first 10 years of working were spent trying to fit into what I thought was a “professional” mold. I was careful not to joke around too much, tried to wear the right clothes and hardly ever used swear words (which are some of my favorite words).
There’s tremendous stress that comes from working in a way that feels disintegrated.
The amount of effort it would take me to switch between my “real” self and my “professional” self started to take a toll on my energy level and overall well-being. I noticed that I started to lose track of who I really was, what I really thought and I never felt quite at home in myself.
“We are collectively exhausted because of our inability to hold competing parts of ourselves together in a more integrated way.” ~ David Whyte
This was certainly true for me, and I see its presence in the lives of many of the people I serve through my work.
Fortunately, a disintegrated life isn’t inevitable. It’s possible to live and work in a way that’s mutually enriching so that both areas of our life benefit from what we do in the other.
The belief that there can be a positive reciprocal relationship between our career and the rest of our life is often called work-life integration.
Here are five simple ways to begin cultivating more work-life integration:
First, we can build mindfulness.
Without being aware of how we feel throughout our workday and being in touch with the nature of our thoughts, it can be tough to develop a sense of integration. In fact, presence is one of the ingredients and gifts of work life integration.
Even if we don’t have a formal mindfulness or meditation practice in place, we can still start small and strengthen this muscle. One really easy way to play with this is to pick a “mindfulness stimulus” like getting a cup of coffee, going to the bathroom or checking our email. Choose something small that we do regularly throughout the day and use that as a reminder to simply get present. When you get a cup of coffee, ask yourself, “Am I present in this moment?” Or when you go to open your email, check in and ask yourself, “How am I feeling?”
Second, focus on being authentic.
It’s easy to start saying, doing or thinking things at work that aren’t actually true for us. In an effort to fit in or appear competent, we might justify behavior that isn’t in alignment with who we really are.
We can simply be aware of this tendency and pause the next time we feel pulled to say something that isn’t actually true for us. We can practice speaking the truth, even by simply answering honestly when a colleague asks us how we are. Authenticity isn’t always easy, but it’s so freeing and supportive of our integration.
Third, open up to genuine connection with others.
One of the things that supports us on the journey toward work life integration is real connection with others at work. Research shows that having even one close friend at work serves as a major buffer against workplace stress. We’re social creatures, and if we close ourselves off to one another at work, we begin to feel fractured and misunderstood.
Fourth, take the path of least resistance when possible.
One of the biggest barriers to work-life integration is doing work that’s not in alignment with our strengths.
“A strength is something you feel strengthened by.”
~ Marcus Buckingham, Now Discover Your Strengths
Too often, I work with people who have bought into the belief that work should be hard. They feel like they’re doing something wrong if the work feels easy and light. The truth is, when we’re working in alignment with our unique gifts and skills, we’re energized by the work and are nourished in ways that benefit all the other areas of our lives.
If there’s something in your day-to-day work that feels easy and comes naturally to you, do more of it whenever you can.
Finally, make time to play.
Even as adults, we’re playful creatures, and the childlike part of us that used play to learn about our surroundings is still within us. Personally, I still struggle with the embedded belief that work isn’t meant to be fun.
But the truth is that we are more creative, productive and integrated when we feel free enough to play and have fun at work. If there’s any opportunity to bring in a little more lightness and laughter into our day (and there’s always an opportunity), try it out. Honor yourself and your own work-life integration by incorporating play into your day, whatever that means for you.
The promise of work-life integration is a sense of wholeness across all areas of our life.
It’s the peace that comes with being fully ourselves, whether we’re working, with friends and family or in our community.
Author: Megan Leatherman
Image: Instagram @elephantjournal
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock