This week I had lunch with a friend who I worked with at Microsoft almost a decade ago. She’s an amazing person—a dedicated employee, wife, mother, and daughter. And, like many people I know, she’s also frustrated, extraordinarily busy, and tired just trying to keep up. As our lunch drew to an end, she floored me by saying: “Lori, you don’t just have work/life balance, you have work/life integration. Do you have any interest in speaking at the Microsoft Women’s conference? Because you’re living something that we want.”

Wow. Holy crap. Thank you, my friend, for saying that out loud to me.  What a gift. Thanks to you, I can now see this and own it. I do have work/life integration.

My crazy happy self-organizing neighbors

What is work/life integration?

For me it means that I experience my work and my life as one whole, beautiful thing instead of as competing parts that exhaust me by pulling me in different directions. Everything in and about my life today feeds my work (and those close to me if they want it). Everything in and about my work today feeds my life (and those close to me if they want it).

How did I end up here?

I’m not sure. I know that today there is a deep joy, peace, and certainty about the friendly nature of the universe within me that is unshakable. It persists through earthquakes and tsunamis (love you Japan), family members passing away (love you Grandma GG, David Bennion, and Sydney), family illness and health scares (love you mom, Jen, and the women of the Polyclinic Breast Center), financial ups and downs, and even through the little annoying things that used to drive me crazy, such as being cut off in traffic.

View from my office today. Hello Annie!

I know that I did not end up here as an individual. I am here because today I recognize my “self” as a collective self that all my self-organizing groups are part of. I know that when I’m with these groups, in person or in my imagination, I experience us as amazing—as a river of collective learners pulling, pushing, and helping ourselves along in ways unimaginable to us as individuals. And when I’m not with them—when I experience myself as a lone individual—everything becomes more difficult and scary.

Thanks to my self-organizing groups, today I’m almost always in “collective self” mode. As a collective self, I easily and naturally:

  1. Recognize my self-organizing groups as something special
  2. Follow the energy of these groups, listening to what they say, coming to more fully trust them, committing myself to them, and (thanks to them) coming to more fully trust my self
  3. Learn that these groups keep us in the now—reducing fears about the past, present, and future and unleashing creativity, adaptability, and resilience that we hardly knew was there as individuals—and more fully recognize that groups that keep us in the now are “visionary” in their ability to more clearly and fully see the now
  4. Recognize my “self” as my self-organizing groups
  5. Release my individual struggles (e.g., thinking that I and those around me aren’t good enough; hating those extra 20 pounds I can’t seem to shake; not knowing who to listen to and who to trust; and trying to simultaneously learn from everybody, make everybody happy, and get ahead of everybody) and opt instead to…
  6. Spend more time with my self-organizing groups so that their ways of being become more fully my own and stay with me even when I’m not with the groups in person. Examples of their ways of being: 1) enjoyable and meaningful collective work, 2) fast and effective collective triage and decision making, and 3) joyful collective letting go. I’ll blog more on these three ways of being later. Please remind me if I don’t.
  7. Become more joyful, peaceful, and certain of the friendly nature of the universe.
  8. Find connected and new-to-me self-organizing groups to learn with and from, returning to step 1 and going deeper and learning more each time through.

Three years ago, I heard a speaker at a conference say that although she’d grown up poor, she had come to a place in her life where she no longer worried about money. She said that she lived in a world of abundance and that money showed up when it was needed, she didn’t really need all that much to be happy anyway, and she didn’t see it as particularly any of her business to know the details of how it would show up. Wow, was that outside the realm of my imagination. At the time, though, I was drawn to her and her experience, believed it was true for her, but couldn’t imagine how to make that a reality for myself. Today I know that as an individual I didn’t have to know how to make it a reality for myself. All I had to know was that it was possible. My self-organizing groups have brought forth that same abundance—and joy—from within me that lay bubbling under the surface at that conference.

So just thought I’d say that work/life integration is possible. It’s my reality and I’m far from alone. From my perspective, the possibility is all we really need to know as individuals. All I did then was notice the people and groups in my life who brought forth abundance, joy, peace, and meaning for me—and I started spending as much time as I could with them. As self-organizing groups, letting go of what was getting in my way became easier; in large part because I finally had time to see—with their help—what exactly was getting in my way. My groups have changed me–or allowed me to change myself, depending on your perspective–into who I am today. Now I can no longer imagine human life and work as being anything less than integrated and amazing, because today I can see that that’s really what we ourselves are.