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Why Shouldn't Work be My Life?

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I recently attended a lunch for Women of Influence. Shelley Broader, CEO and President of Walmart Canada gave a talk and hit briefly on the topic of work-life balance.

The case for work-life balance has been made strongly in recent years, and e-mail and smartphones have been blamed for the demise of those clear boundaries between work and free time, business and family. We're told a lack of work-life balance is what causes stress, burn-out and in some cases the demise of marriages and relationships. Shelley argued that what we need isn't better work-life balance but better work-life integration.

Immediately this struck a chord with me. I'm an entrepreneur and that has always meant pushing myself really hard with work. It's an old adage that if you do something you love, you'll never work a day in your life. I've always been ambitious, but it's more than ambition -- what I do I feel defines me in many ways and, most importantly, it's what I love.

Because I'm doing something I love, it's just not part of my reality to walk away from my job at 5 p.m. and forget about it until the next day. I'm excited to be working on amazing programs with people that inspire me every day. That's why Shelley's idea really hit home for me. I've always rated myself poorly on work-life balance...but on work-life integration I think I get a gold star!

Only, where was Shelley and her insight when my marriage was falling apart and work-life balance was part of the constant conversation? Her insight would have helped frame those numerous discussions in a more meaningful way that could have broken through our conversations about work-life balance. If I had been able to switch my focus to integrating my career with my marriage instead of trying to balance them against each other, maybe I would have felt less like we, as a couple, were failing at that whole work-life equation.

The idea of work-life integration also makes sense of all those successful (and inspiring) couples who've built businesses together. It's another so-called rule that you shouldn't work with spouses/friends/family. But we all know there are many examples of companies who forge amazing and successful businesses together. The fact that they're so close seems to be what gives their business that extra edge. And while working with your spouse might sound like a nightmare for achieving work-life balance, it seems to make better work-life integration a possibility!

One such couple who really inspires me is is Essie Weingarten and her husband, CEO Max Sartino. This duo is behind the nail polish company Essie. After 28 years of coating and caring for the nails of women and starlets alike, the brand has become iconic. I've had the happy experience of working closely with Essie and Max and what I love most is the dynamic between them. It's really something to watch. There's such innate trust and respect between them. It's mutual and supportive and I believe it's one of the keys to their very success.

Kate and Andy Spade are another example of a great business team. Over the past 18 years, Kate and Andy Spade have together built a hugely successful business and a distinctive global brand. The interesting thing about the Spades is, how they work as a couple is also why they work as a relationship -- Kate is brilliant and creative, Andy pushes the brand and takes risks. One is fuel to the other's fire. It's a beautiful and mutually beneficial relationship, both professionally and personally.

Of course, not all successful businesses are built on romantic relationships and not every successful relationship could or should become a business partnership. But I found it interesting to think about these kinds of couples in relation to Shelley's argument for better work-life integration. One thing seems key -- you have to be yourself when you work; adopting a persona to get through your professional life means you can't integrate work with life, because you're not being your authentic self at work.

Work-life integration means there is no separate "work me" and "life me." I'm the same person and I bring the same set of values to my work and my personal life. What I value professionally, honesty, evolution, optimism and gratitude are also traits that I value personally. I don't change dramatically when I come home from work -- I'm still the same me. Because of this, it's not unusual for me to become friends with people I work with or to even host work events in my own home!

If you were to follow that old work-life rule book, it might look like I have boundary issues, that my work is always spilling into my personal life. But I really see it as a seamless integration, a constant extension of who I am and what I love to do. And I believe it all works together and my life becomes better and stronger because it's integrated, rather than at odds with work.

Sometimes, it just takes somebody framing a problem a new way and you immediately feel things make sense. I've always struggled with the very notion of work-life balance. I certainly could never seem to achieve it -- though I kept hearing and feeling that I should want it. And I was skeptical about the whole "balance" thing. After all, we do spend the majority of our days at work and so it really is a core part of our lives!

Shelley's clever framing helped me understand that perhaps I really have managed to successfully integrate my work and life and that's exactly why I am more at peace and accepting of my life today! It's not about either/or... I really can -- and do -- have both!

It's all a matter of perspective.