As a woman who studied gender for 30 years, I know we experience a number of identities that societal and cultural norms dictate we juggle on a daily basis. Wife or partner, mother, daughter, friend, working professional—the list goes on. All these identities pull us in different directions, making us wonder which identity gets prioritized on a given day.
You may have heard about the “second shift” that women do after they come home from their paid jobs. According to a study conducted by Oxfam and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women in families making $100,000 a year spend 5.7 hours every day doing (unpaid) household-related work. That’s a lot of hours that could be spent doing something else, like enjoying leisure time, enhancing skills or spending more quality time with loved ones.
As a wife and mother of two, I’ve constantly strived to find work-life balance. Everyone throws around this term, so it seemed like I could achieve it. But I couldn’t quite find it, no matter what I tried. Life always seemed to be a continuous juggling act—on a hamster wheel! What was I missing?
It’s Integration, Not Balance
I realized I was striving for something that doesn’t exist. Work-life balance implies there’s a state of equilibrium across all aspects of life. But my life doesn’t work that way, and trying to force it was causing me to lose my personal identity as Sangeeta.
As I continued to reflect, I determined what I actually needed was whole-life integration. I had to combine all my different identities in a way that represented who I am as a whole person. I didn’t want to have one or two identities be dominant. I wanted to be present for the various roles I have, but at the same time, I wanted what makes me a unique individual to also thrive.
More importantly, I had to find a space where I could do things that were just for me. I didn’t want the things that I enjoyed to be on the periphery or an afterthought. I wanted to integrate them as complete parts of my life.
How To Achieve Whole-Life Integration
I had to find a way to embody my full self. So I decided to get intentional about integrating all aspects of my life, including my various responsibilities and passions. Here are the four steps I used to accomplish this.
1. List All Aspects Of Your Life That Matter
First, I wrote down what my priorities were. As I made my list, I made sure to add not just my responsibilities as a wife, mother, consultant, etc. I also included my personal passions, as well as my physical and mental health.
Think about what matters to you. What makes you want to wake up in the morning? What are your current responsibilities? After making the list, determine the level of importance each one holds. This is your starting point.
2. Describe These Aspects In Detail
Next, I started adding what these roles and passions looked like. It’s important to be specific. In my category of mental health, for example, I needed to drill down to a deeper level. What could I do for my mental health? How could I relax?
Consider your priorities in depth so you can break them down into manageable action items. For me, I’ve started putting aside time every day to read or do needlework. It’s written into my calendar just like any other appointment, and it’s an actionable way to integrate my mental health priorities.
3. Look For Areas To Create Space
We can’t do everything. When looking at whole-life integration, we have to decide where our time and energy need to be focused. That can mean doing less in some areas.
One thing I looked at was whether I could move some tasks, like basic chores, to other members of my family. I’m fortunate that my husband and I equally share family responsibilities, but I decided to get more intentional about making sure my kids do their part. I also hire help when I need it. Then I considered what else I could let go of. For example, when my in-laws would visit, I spent a lot of time trying to create a perfect house. But were fresh flowers on the guest nightstand really more important than 30 minutes of relaxation or exercise?
These are individual choices and decisions. You have to figure out what works for you. If you share a home with family or roommates, sit down and have calm, candid conversations about what changes need to take place to help you out. Of course, make sure you know what changes you want in the first place.
4. Focus On What You’ve Neglected
Finally, I looked at how to integrate the things that mattered to me as an individual, like crafting. I realized that once I intentionally created space in my mind for it, I was able to find the actual time in my day. For example, when my mother-in-law was visiting and wanted to cook for the kids, I used the opportunity to take a quilting class. This ultimately led to incorporating another one of my passions, giving, into my life. As I’ve watched the situation in Ukraine, I wanted to do something more personal than donating money. So I decided to use my new skills and form a quilting group to make and donate quilts to Ukraine and victims of disasters in the United States.