Work/Life Integration


"Work ethic." "Work/life balance." I’ve thought a lot about these phrases as I have been exploring an entrepreneurial path. But really, as I reflect more deeply, these are concepts I’ve grappled with for a long while now.

Here’s the thing: I’m a really hard worker, a very passionate person, and pour my heart & soul into everything I do. If I’m not propelled into my work in that way, I know I shouldn’t be doing that thing anymore. I am 100% driven by what makes my heart beat, and I try to use that resounding boom as my inner guide. This is certainly not an easy thing to do, but ultimately I know it’s that beat that fuels my motivation, actions, and life’s work.

For the past ten years, I’ve mainly worked within non-profits in various education & programmatic roles.  When managing programs, that usually meant a late night here, a Saturday afternoon there, and very often a “oh I’m just going to stay a half hour longer to finish these emails” …which would likely amount to two extra hours.

 I never felt like I could quite balance my schedule adequately. Last summer, when I was deciding whether or not I was going to leave what was once a dream job, I did a personal visioning process in which I mapped out what my life was currently like. I deconstructed every piece: work, relationship, family, friendships, health and creative projects.

When I reconstructed what I wanted my life to actually look like, I took a lot of time exploring those key ingredients to the life I would absolutely love. Something major that came out of this process was how I had all these bubbles, all these aspects of life, all completely disconnected from one another. In the reconstruction phase, the bubbles overlapped. I wrote how I wanted elements in my life to connect and NOT be separate. I was craving a healthy integration that would give me a better sense of groundedness, stability, energy and happiness.

 So here I am, nearly eight months after quitting that job, and seven months after leaving what might be the most beautiful place I will ever live (Santa Cruz, CA).

Let me be fully transparent in acknowledging that I am still figuring out my career path, and I know I’m in the thick of some major life shifts (reflections on that soon to come).


But this I’ve figured out: I don’t believe in work/life balance.

I believe in work/life integration.

This quote I read last week completely reaffirmed this belief:

Our work ethic does not just belong at work. Our work ethic is something that must be applied to our home, our family, our community, and our world. Don’t allow your goals to exist only in the workplace or where they can be financially rewarded. Live with ambition for your entire existence. Every aspect of your life can be made better with your hard work, love and devotion.
— Cleo Wade, Heart Talk

Here’s why I strongly believe in work/life integration:


1.) Balancing is hard.

I’m not saying to not do things that are hard. Heck, I love a good challenge. But alright, raise your hand if you can do a handstand? What about balancing a ton of books on your head?

I’m sure that some of you can, and that’s amazing….but I’ve been doing yoga for several years and still trying to master that handstand…probably something deeper there, but what I’m getting at is: THIS IS TOUGH STUFF.

Let’s talk about those books I mentioned balancing on your head. Now think of each of those books as different aspects of your life. That ends up being A LOT books, right?

Maybe there’s a way those can be written into one large volume, but before we even go there, I’m telling you: it’s okay to give up on the balancing act.


2.) You are more than what you do.

I can’t take credit for this statement. My homegirl, Jordan, beautifully states and explains this concept here. 

Don’t let your job define you. It’s easy to do, especially in our society where we’re asked at a very young age “what do you want to be when you grow up?” which eventually morphs into, “so, what do you do?” which is really just asking “what’s your job occupation?”

I’m often tempted to answer with: “I do a lot of creative projects, yoga, enjoy exploring the earth, making desserts, sending snail mail and dancing to Motown.” I’ve honestly been struggling when people ask me this now (I probably should just resort to this answer).

Focusing solely on a career path is engrained in us at a young age with that question of “what do you want to be…”

What could we be asking instead?


3.) Your life is your message.

I didn’t make this one up either. Credit to Mahatma Gandhi for that one.

One of the most transformational times of my life was when I was traveling in India back in 2007, and reading this quote within the home Gandhi lived at in New Delhi. It has stuck strongly with me, and I’ve been thinking more and more recently how I want to spread this message of “do it betterish.”

So, what do you want your message to be?


4.) No matter what, it’s gonna overlap.

No matter how hard you try to compartmentalize work from “real life” ---one is going to naturally seep into the other. Your car won’t start so you’re going to be late for work. You got that huge grant you worked incredibly hard on and want to celebrate with your partner. You’re naturally going to want share about where you spent eight hours of your day with someone, and you’re probably going to need to vent to a co-worker about matters going on within your personal life. As a good friend once reminded me: “it’s one world.” Perhaps the balance of it all comes in simply knowing that your personal practices and your work and are not separate, but inevitably blend to make up your life.


5.) Your time & energy are invaluable.

Sure: you’re probably paid for a certain amount of hours, so there does seem to be a price tag for your worth at work. Know it probably goes beyond that.

Are you paid for being a mom?

For caring for an ill family member?

For hiking to the top of that mountain?

I know we need money to survive. I’m definitely NOT telling you to quit your day job. You & I both know we got bills to pay. But know the hugs & kisses and even tears are a different kind of wealth. Those walks with your dog, those personal records you achieved during that race, that protest you participated in, that test you aced. These amount to something more than what will ever show up on your bank statement.


If you’re a goal setter at work, think about how you can set goals for personal projects at home. Maybe there’s something you learned on the job that can you apply to family dynamics. Perhaps there’s something you learned from a friend that can be applied to a work collaboration.  


Consider the various ways you can integrate your personal life practices into your work, and your work practices into your life. In the meantime, I’m curious: say you were not allowed to share your job occupation the next time someone questions, “so, what do you do?”


How would you answer this?

emily hope dobkin