My lightbulb moment was in Albania, in the summer, a few years ago. I was backpacking around the Balkans but also carrying my laptop because I needed to keep in touch with my clients by email. As a one-person business, I couldn’t delegate to colleagues, and nowadays everyone expects an immediate response. Gone are the days of shutting down the office for a fortnight; for most of us anyway.
I love to explore new places and increasingly my work goes hand in hand with international travel. As a business adviser, trainer and speaker in the creative industries, I empower creative entrepreneurs all around the world, helping them adapt business techniques to their local situation, then I learn from their successes to help others elsewhere. The things I learn on my travels strengthen my business; the stronger my business, the greater its global reach.
Despite writing about it in one of my creative business books, I had become uncomfortable with the concept of the “work-life balance”. For a start, the term suggests that work is not life. It implies that work is the bad part of the equation and that it’s only outside work that we can be truly alive, free and happy.
I’m lucky, I know. I love my work, so I don’t spend the week waiting for Friday afternoons, nor do I hate Monday mornings. Sadly, many people do. Entrepreneurs have a choice about the business they set up and crucially, the way it’s structured. It’s a matter of business design. Of course, every enterprise must be designed to serve customers, compete effectively and perform financially. But business design can go much further than that, to include other ingredients that fit with our values: social impact, sustainability, or community. We can also deliberately design an enterprise to deliver the lifestyle we want, thus eliminating the hard border between ‘work’ and ‘life’.
Overseas, I meet a growing number of location independent entrepreneurs working online: the ‘digital nomads’. Everywhere, I meet inspiring people of all nationalities, some of them on the move, others rooted in their communities, who have chosen to design their lives differently, unconventionally, and on their own terms.
Back in Albania I was stressing because I didn’t have enough time to do my online work as well as spend time touring the country before going back to my office in England to work, er, online. Enlightened, I rescheduled my flight home to extend my trip and instantly had enough time to do both; work and travel were suddenly no longer in conflict but in harmony.
Yes, I’m lucky, and I’m grateful. But I have consciously designed my business to deliver what I want in terms of both work and life. I’ve made deliberate choices. It’s no happy accident: I’ve engineered it.
So instead of striving to achieve a better work-life balance, let’s go further and use our creativity to design enterprises that deliver ‘work-life integration’. Thousands of entrepreneurs around the world are already doing so. Let’s join them.