Think pieces are plastered all over the internet with tips on how to achieve better work-life balance and why it’s important, but Kogod MBA alum and CFO of Tegna, Victoria Harker, has a different approach to the tightrope act that’s become increasingly difficult to achieve.
“It’s not reasonable to expect that any one person is going to be able to get that kind of equilibrium within 24 hours,” Harker explains. “There will be times in your life when work will have a bigger drain on your battery.”
Harker sees work-life balance as more of a long-term ebb and flow, with periods when career concerns edge out personal time and other stretches where the job takes a back seat. Her perspective can be jarring after so many decades of headlines touting the importance of achieving a more balanced work-life outlook—especially for women—but Harker isn’t alone in her way of thinking.
Other professionals look at work-life balance as an impossible equilibrium. After all, as soon as something reaches balance, one slight change will disrupt the entire equation. Why try to balance the un-balanceable?
And many young adults are flouting the idea of work-life balance with hashtags like #HustleHarder, an emblem of the rising “hustle culture” that’s increasingly leading to an exploited workforce and burnout.
Instead of pushing a “hustle harder” mentality or encouraging workers to find a difficult-to-achieve equilibrium, many companies and universities are promoting work-life integration—the idea that work is a part of life and should be integrated among other priorities like family, health, and hobbies. The work-life integration approach focuses on balancing priorities throughout life instead of on a 24-hour cycle.
“I don’t think it is possible day-to-day,” says Harker, who is not only a CFO but also has a family, serves on several corporate boards, and trains and competes in marathons and Ironman events. “You’re going to have times when you aren’t going to be able to see your friends as often. I’ve had to let friends know I won’t be around for a few weeks, and if I don’t answer texts, it’s just because I have another focus right now.”
Work-life integration is intended to make all facets of life more manageable. The founder of 21Mill.com, a professional skill-building platform targeted to millennials, likens a person’s interests and responsibilities to a symphony—all of the instruments play at different times with different intensities, but they all get their time to shine throughout the performance.
Workplaces are coming around to the idea of a results-driven environment that rewards employees with more options like telecommuting, flexible hours, and increased paid time off.
When Harker started running, she came up with a strategy to make sure that she was prioritizing her own goals throughout the year and maintaining work-life integration. “When I’m running, it’s easier [to think]. I would count on five fingers the things I wanted to accomplish over the coming year that are not job-related,” says Harker. “I pick things that are easy to remember because when I run, I can regularly think back and see how I am making time for the goals I decided to concentrate on.”
It turns out that no one can do it all by themselves, so whether there is a final paper due at the end of the week, a sick child at home, or you’re overdue for some self-care, it’s impossible to do it all every. single. day.
“Be mindful about how you're concentrating your time and energy,” Harker advises.
Find a way that you can check in with yourself and your non-work-related goals for the year, and remember that no one else has it quite as together as their hashtags on Instagram might suggest.