The other day, someone asked me how I manage to do it all. I considered it a rhetorical question and so didn’t have an answer, but it got me thinking. We often hear about maintaining a Work / Life Balance, yet that often makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Balance implies an even split (though things can be balanced with more weight on one side than on the other, if you place the fulcrum in the right spot). More than the evenness of work and life, though, I’m disturbed by the implication of a split, which is why I began to think of it more in terms of integration.
The question was raised as I was coming out of the quite intense Full Writing Residency of our low-residency MFA in Creative Writing at Mississippi University for Women. I am also heading into another equally intense all-virtual Full Writing Residency later this week. There are times like these when work appears all-consuming, and nonetheless, I’ve managed to be involved (with my family) in getting work done on our house and planning for our much needed vacation. There are other times when work is less intense, and yet, as an academic, I am almost always on call. There will be emails to respond to, reading to do, papers to grade, and in the summer when we’re supposedly ‘off,’ there are summer classes and prep to do for the following year. Yes, we get vacation, but the job is never completely off your mind. Striving for a balance, equal time for work and life, seems impossible, stressful, and unrealistic.
Life is not separate from work. Work is a part of life, and I want my life to be part of my work as much as possible. That’s why I’m starting to think that Work / Life Integration is a better way to think of it. Now, before you just call me a workaholic (and you wouldn’t be the first!), I should say that integrating life into your work is as important as integrating work in to my life. As an academic, I’m fortunate enough to be able to flex my schedule any time I need to (other than scheduled class times). So I may run to the store in the morning or go to a doctor’s appointment without taking time off. That also means I’m often reading or grading at 11pm or answering email at 8am. It also means I might be able to take a morning during the week to write poetry (part of my work, after all) or submit to literary magazines, knowing full well I may have work to do on the weekend after mowing the lawn.
To me, Work / Life Integration means making everything I do an important part of who I am. It means taking care of the responsibilities of my private life as well as the demands of my work life. It means not pitting one against the other, but instead trying to find the ways that allow all aspects of my life to work together, even as priorities shift due to the immediate demands on my time.
Ultimately, it’s just semantics. We all muddle through the best we can no matter what we call it. But for now, thinking in terms of how I integrate the many aspects of my life seems more productive and less stressful than thinking about what I need to do to balance them or make them even.