The sky is cloudless and blue, reflected by a glistening ocean. My feet are in the sand and my youngest plays beside me. It’s a weekday, no longer school holidays and the beach is empty. We dropped the eldest at school and escaped.
I can do this because I work part-time, three days a week. On paper it looks ideal. Like I have the whole work balance thing sorted out. On Instagram I can post photos with the waves behind us and claim to have life sorted.
But as soon as I post that photo, I’m also checking work emails. Managing things from my ostensible day off. I feel the tug of my son’s hand and the tug of keeping an eye on what’s happening in my job. One seldom pauses for the other.
As I reply to those emails, I feel a sense of failure. I’m not balancing at all. The carefully crafted boundaries are crumbling.
I mention this to a friend and she smiles at me. Then she shares a secret. None of us balance. We integrate. And that, I do very well.
For me, it was the shift in perception I needed. I don’t really have a life outside work and life inside it. It’s the old impossible fallacy – to mother like I don’t have a job and to work like I don’t have children. Those boundaries are nonsense.
In the office, my primary focus is work, but there is still a part of my mind that remains with my family. Just as when I am with my family, a certain part of my brain cannot let go of work.
For years I have tried to juggle. Tried to build walls around my time and not let it creep. When it inevitably does, I’ve inevitably felt guilty about it.
I’ve finally realised that it is not realistic. I’m really committed to my job and I want to know what’s going on when I’m not there. I’m really committed to my children and I want to be there for the important things that occur during work time. There is a natural give and take.
I think it’s high time we stopped the myth of the individual spinning plates. The commitments in our lives are much more intermixed and messy. The ideas in my head don’t fit into neat boxes depending on the day of the week. My children don’t conveniently only need me on the weekend. Work doesn’t stop when I leave the office. It is all constant and integrated.
Why do we believe our personal lives shouldn’t touch our professional lives? If someone in my team is struggling, of course it’s coming to work with them. I want to know about it. Just as I appreciate the support of those around me. Workplaces aren’t filled with robots (yet) so why do we pretend? Why do we hold to these ideas of strict boundaries and impossible balance?
Employers and clients have benefited from the devices that keep us in constant contact. Work has poured into our discretionary time. I actually don’t have an issue with that. I like the element of control and the fact I can manage my time in ways that make sense to me. There is no resentment as long as there is a flipside. The tide needs to pull both in and out. So if I’m answering emails on a weekend or planning projects, then it should be okay to take work time to spend with the kids. And that shouldn’t feel like a great favour bestowed by extreme benevolence. It’s what fair work life integration demands.
I’m through building artificial walls. I’ll manage my time in the ways that make sense to me, with the tools I have available. Work life integration recognises that it all meshes together. That separating work from life outside it is artificial in a modern, always connected reality. There’s no point expending valuable energy beating myself up about it.
Instead, I’ll accept the ebb and flow and keep a close eye on it flowing it both directions.