Work-Life Integration VS Work-Life Balance

Let me show you a scene.

It’s a Tuesday, and I’m working, as I am most Tuesdays. I lead a meeting. I answer email. I update my goals for the quarter.

I’m not in my office, though, and I’m not at home. I’m sitting on a mountain overlooking Steamboat Springs, about 1,000 miles away from the Far West Capital office in Austin. Thanks to the miracle of cell network coverage and the technology in my pocket, I can “be there” without “being there.”

Let’s be clear: I think work-life balance is a great goal. We should all strive, as I’ve said, for progress in our spiritual, mental, physical, fiscal, and emotional goals; we should all prioritize our families as much as we do our work. But I have a slightly different view: Call it work-life integration.

There’s some that say that sitting atop Steamboat Springs and looking at an email on my phone isn’t balanced, and it certainly isn’t vacation. I’ll give you that it isn’t vacation, but I gotta say: Sometimes I’d rather answer that email from the mountain than I would from my office.

Yes, it’s good to unplug. But flexibility is my day-to-day goal.

It’s good to have distance from our devices and even our offices. When I went to Cuba in 2015, I had to unplug – and it was really good for me, not to mention my ego. As it turns out, the world doesn’t stop when I leave the office, and it doesn’t even stop when I go off the grid.  I realized then how stupid it was for me to be that addicted to my phone and email. I think it’s a huge problem; I don’t think our brains have evolved to be gathering as much input as they’re gathering. Nonetheless, we all do it. I still do it. But even then, I’d rather have the flexibility to do my work on a mountain when it makes sense. Plus, I got to take a client with me.

I love to travel – I try to get out of town at least once a quarter, and we’ve built a workplace here where everyone can do that – unlimited vacation and no set work hours means that I don’t care if you hit your goals after you run over 9 mountains or when you’re sitting in a Far West Capital office. But I don’t set an autoresponder. I just don’t believe in them. Nobody’s really out for the most part. Nobody really reads them. It’s just another email I have to delete. And I don’t want to go out of town for a week and come back and be totally swamped – that’s not a good way to recover from vacation.

So I integrate. And I delegate. And I trust in my team.

To me, that’s balance – the freedom to work however and whenever it makes sense. To let ego slide and know that my team will cover things when I do need to turn off my phone.

What’s your strategy?

Cole Harmonson is the CEO of Far West Capital, a company that funds the goals of high-growth entrepreneurs. Know a great company in need of capital to unleash their potential? Send them here  and we’ll give them a call. 


  • Eliot Stone

    Great approach, Cole; and, I totally agree. Oddly enough, so would Karl Marx. Bear with me….

    In early Marx, he provides an historical look at the development of capitalism, which he termed “primitive accumulation”. He begins his critique with the claim that in pre-industrial, even pre-feudal societies, individuals had far greater access to resources necessary for life, because during this time, land and access to resources was not restricted by law.

    Marx then goes on to say that as a result of a lack of access to resources under legal systems that upheld privatization of land, individuals who did not hold private land had to sell land owners the only resource available to them: their own labor power.

    As such, individuals were far more able to work directly for themselves before land was privatized, e.g. when you have direct access to resources, you do not need to sell you labor to other people to gain access to those resources. But under laws that uphold the privatization of land, labor necessarily become a commodity made available for purchase to those who control and restrict access to resources necessary for life.

    For Marx, this is troubling. He finds the commodification of labor power a primary cause of what he believes underpins some of the deepest social issues in the industrial world: alienation.

    Marx believed that humans realize their own value in the world through the work of their own labor. When people are forced to sell their own labor to others, they become “alienated” from the outcomes of their labor. This belief lead Marx to claim that privatization of land and commodification of labor power should be abolished and that all of society should share in ownership of all resources and means of production.

    Marx also believed that in the pre-industrial world, work was viewed as a part of life. In other words, people did not rationalize work as much as we do now and concentrate it into periods of time during the day; rather, work was seen as a necessary and fully integrated part of life.

    Here again, Marx claims that the rationalization and concentration of work hours leads to feelings of alienation from self in the individual worker, as the results of their labor are not encountered in the worker’s off hours; rather, the products of their labor are sold away to anonymous consumers.

    Pretty bleak, Marx.

    Now, certainly, I am not willing to follow Marx’s critique all the way to the end and call for the destruction of state beauracracy and the rise of the dictatorship of the proletariat…that’s insane. Privatization of land and the rationalization of labor has allow us to create a society more productive than any the world has ever seen. Further, one can no longer exist in the market place without rationalizing methods of production: it is part of the ecosystem.

    That said, I do think we can learn something from the idealizations of grouchy old Marx . Particularly the bit about rationalization and organization of labor into a set unit of hours during the day.

    Many people, myself included, were raised to see work as something you go do that is separate from the rest of life. This false dichotomy set me up for quite a shock as I entered my working years: I anticipated that work would somehow only take place during working hours and that the rest of my life would be completely work free as a result.

    Anyone that cooks, cleans, buys clothes, or otherwise takes care of themselves outside of work knows this is not how life is. Work is, as you put it Cole, an integrated component of existence.

    The point is: accepting that work is a necessary part of existence and something we can be proud of and celebrate may be the closest we can come to a satisfactory answer for Marx’s critique of life under capitalism. Work takes many forms, but can never be fully excluded from life, whether we live in tribal, feudal, industrial, or digital economies.

    So absolutely! Why not call into the office from the top of a mountain? Just so long as the work gets done 😉

    Keep inspiring us, Cole!

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