Have you ever felt like various parts of your life don’t quite fit together into a meaningful whole? I have struggled with this, and I’ve worked with many clients who have struggled with this.
Here’s an example from my own life. For numerous years, I developed and ran my own survey/reporting software system as part of my assessment business. At some point, I realized this was not fitting well into the whole of my life and work. I was spending a crazy amount of time designing and testing features. Even though I enjoyed certain parts of it, for the most part is was draining and frustrating. Overall, it was counter-productive to making my best contribution. If I could only have those hours back!
Dealing with a Fragmented life
If you're not intentional about designing your life around something central, you’ll end up with a fragmented life. When this happens, various areas of your life are working at cross-purposes with each other.
It’s possible to integrate your life more around your unifying theme. The more you do this, the more coherent your life becomes and the more you will find your true work, which will be a meaningful whole greater than the sum of its parts. Your true work is not a specific job, or even career. It may take different forms throughout your career, and it will evolve over time. But it will always tie back to your unifying theme, as you currently understand it.
Once I realized that running software didn’t fit well with the whole of my life—my unifying theme—I was able to start looking for a solution to offload this task and free myself up to focus on my best contribution. I wasn’t able to do this immediately, but when the opportunity arose, I saw it and was ready to take advantage of it. My life and work is much more unified as a result.
How to Integrate Your Life
So, how do you go about building an integrated life? Here are 4 steps to help you do this.
1. Identify your unifying theme.
The only way you’ll have clarity about whether something doesn’t fit with your life as a whole is by measuring it against a standard. That standard is the degree to which it connects to your unifying theme. Last week, I talked about the importance of knowing your own story, and how your work emanates from your story, which you can check out here. Your unifying theme will be found at the convergence of your core beliefs, deeply shaping experiences, your core motivations, and the specific positive difference you want to make in the world.
What is the thread that ties your work together?
To give you an example, here are my core beliefs, a few deeply shaping experiences, core motivations, and my unifying theme.
My core beliefs
One of my core beliefs is this: we are born to connect. I believe relationships profoundly shape our capacity to love, make a positive difference in the world, and lead a meaningful life.
Experiences that Shaped Me
An experience that has deeply shaped me: growing up with a mother who was mentally ill and emotionally absent. I have struggled to learn how to connect to myself, to others, and to God. But the struggles, and my research and therapy practice as a psychologist, have taught me about the beauty and importance of relational connection.
The specific difference I want to make in the world: I want to play a key role as a thought leader in developing connected leaders and teams.
My Unifying Theme
My unifying theme is to help people live and lead with connection (which builds on my core motivations: achieving my potential by helping others develop in a way that evokes recognition, which signifies that my work made a positive impact).
Put differently, my theme is to help people develop positive relationships with those they serve so they can create a sustained sense of productivity, fulfillment, and purpose.
2. Evaluate how the various areas of your life and work “fit” together around this theme.
Are there any particular areas that stand out as not fitting? Run these areas through the filter of your unifying theme. Why don’t they fit?
3. Gradually shift these areas to achieve a greater degree of integration.
You can do this in three key ways, and it’s important to remember that this will typically be a gradual process. But small steps over time add up to big changes. At some point there will be a tipping point, but not without consistent small steps along the way.
First, you can work to eliminate an area from your life. In the example above from my life, I was able to eventually eliminate running my own survey and reporting software.
Second, you can approach a certain area differently. You may not be able to eliminate certain aspects from your work or life. However, you can most likely approach them in ways that tap more into your core motivations and therefore connect more closely to your unifying theme. For example, one of my clients recently was assigned a task by his boss that he really didn’t feel motivated to do. It involved resolving a problematic and complicated technical situation. As we talked about it, he realized that one of his core movitations—explore—was needed to resolve this problem. He was focusing on some of the other aspects of the project that overwhelmed him and missed this. The more he thought about it the more he realized that he could really focus on his exploring theme and go a long way toward resolving the issue.
This leads to a third option: offload certain aspects of an area or project, and focus more narrowly on the ones that fit more with your unifying theme.
4. Evaluate what is missing.
Given your unifying theme, and the various facets of your life, what is missing? Is there something related to your unifying theme that’s not being tapped in your life right now? Think about how you can take steps to develop this area.
I hope this was helpful and you are able to take some concrete steps to develop a more integrated life around your unifying theme. Let me know how it goes!
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