We’re spending more time at work than ever before. We’re at the office till late. With new technology, we’re always connected. And even if we make a point to carve out time for friends or a hobby, the vast majority of our energy every week is focused on work.
This change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Work is as much a part of who we are and our identity as how we choose to spend our time outside of the office. Really, when we go to work, we aren’t leaving life behind. However, this does imply less of balance in time—note the shift in terminology from “work-life balance,” which implies a kind of equivalence, to “work-life integration,” which implies an intentional merging of the two. UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business defines the latter as “an approach that creates more synergies between all areas that define ‘life'.”
Yet, as much as we have all subscribed to this rebrand that takes a step toward a more meaningful, interconnected experience, the conversation around this overlap is overwhelmingly one sided—it focuses on how work bleeds into our personal lives, but not the other way around. In our heads, we still position the two in binary opposition to each other. But in this framework, both parts are going to suffer. One will always steal time away from the other. The reality is that the best work gets done when you put your entire self and intention into a project, when you give something your all.
Leading a team, I’ve found first-hand how important it is that everyone feels comfortable bringing their full selves to work everyday. I don’t want a half person sitting at their desk. I need their full attention, focus, and passion—and that means that they can bring all of their interests and experiences to the table, that they can be totally honest with where they’re at.
In my own experience, I’ve also seen how my “best” almost always coincides with when I feel comfortable being myself. When I started on Wall Street, I struggled to mold to what I saw as an archetype of success. And it had an impact; in my first review, I got feedback that people didn’t trust me because they could sense I wasn’t being one-hundred percent authentic. It was only when I found ways to be more fully present with myself and my interests—few of my coworkers had known that I was a classical pianist—that people understood where I was coming from and wanted to support my growth.
My parents never had friends in the office, but today it’s a crucial part of feeling fulfilled at work. In fact, for millennials, workplace friendships boost job satisfaction by 25 percent. Why? Friendships create connectivity, provide emotional support, drive motivation, and strengthen soft skills. Of course, making friends as an adult can be more difficult than in college, but capitalizing on shared interests is an easy way to start building a foundation of trust—and friendship.
Another way to let life and work blend naturally is to join and stay active in two to three networking groups each year. These informal networks, such as Women in Product, Design Driven NYC or the Squad Insiders community, provide opportunities to meet people in a friendly and casual way within a context of shared professional interests.
Rather than trying to be a part of as many groups as possible, sustaining involvement in a few is a strategic way to expand your network in a meaningful way. By going to events with the same set of people, you’ll be able to build relationships on a foundation of a history of conversations and experiences—not just that one happy hour you went to where you forgot almost everyone’s name.
Making friends and joining networking groups won’t be effective unless you’re being authentic to who you are. Just as your life extends across the personal and professional, how you present yourself should too.You don’t need to have a superficially strong robotic persona at work compared to a more vulnerable you at home. Instead, aim to be real in all aspects of your life—at your desk, in meetings, at events, on your couch. All are aspects of your life; it doesn’t make sense to only be you in only a few. This openness will also attract the same. The more authentic you are, the more you’ll establish authentic connections with others as well.
When you treat work and life as competing interests, it’s no wonder that both sides take a hit. Instead, a greater fluidity between the personal and professional drives more intention to what you’re focused on in the moment. Even as work continues to take up a substantial amount of our time, it’s important to see how to carry the other aspects of your life into the office too.
After all, it’s your life—and you can’t be at your best if you’re leaving parts of yourself at home every day.