Inspiring Work-Life Integration

by: Cara Meixner

When I contemplate what it means to be “holistic” in my approach to life as an academic, a vision comes to mind. I picture a space within which my scholarship, teaching and service are inextricably connected, even recursive and as necessary, self-correcting. I imagine inhabiting a philosophical place-of-mind wherein talks of work-life balance are replaced by habits of personal-professional integration. That we have subordinated our lives to our work is not necessarily anathema – history is a clever foreshadower. Where I believe we have failed in our quest to be whole is in responding systematically and sustainably to the integration enigma. All around us, we are aroused by quick fixes designed to unclog our schedules (just add Drano!) and cleanse our souls: 30-minute yoga classes, 10-step self-help books, for-profit writing clubs, and more. There will come a time, however, when I portend it will be longer tenable for the academy and its faculty to sustain life on the three-legged stool. A new paradigm must enliven us to new ways of being and becoming.

As the folks at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) have found, few individuals can balance the mythical scales. The task is Herculean; and to some, just nefarious. (Have you ever tried to sit on a seesaw with someone whose weight is grossly disproportionate to yours? One person skyrockets while the other plunks.) To CCL executive Craig Chappelow, “there is no ‘right’ way to create an integrated life” (Fast Company). Instead, we have to privilege every opportunity to know ourselves first. As Chappelow purports, there are our dominant separators, who create strict boundaries between work and life. Therein, I’d muse that work is the victor more often than not. Then, there are the integrators, for whom the personal and the professional are inextricably intertwined, and the cyclers, who (as the name implies) move through rotations of high-level work and high-priority family time. In my mind, it’s time to offer workouts that train the integrators and the cyclers to lead the pack.

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