Susan Sobbott: An Integrated Life

People everywhere struggle to find work-life balance. A better approach, in my mind, is to pursue work-life integration.
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People everywhere struggle to find work-life balance. A better approach, in my mind, is to pursue work-life integration. Rather than a work life and a personal life, two separate entities, the goal should be to have one very full life and work consciously to integrate all of the things that make it meaningful.

I purposefully make my work-life integration visible to our team at American Express. By bringing my family into my work and my work into my home, by sharing my story, others can see that I value what they value -- a full, diverse life. When my children spend time with me at my office or work events, they are able to see that I have other responsibilities beyond my role as Mom.

Several years ago, I found that I was having more discussions with colleagues, mostly women, struggling to meet the demands of both family and work. At certain stages of life, they felt forced to make a choice between their career goals and their family aspirations. These conversations prompted me to create a third option -- one that engages experienced, high-potential employees part-time, for specific, high-impact projects.

An accomplished senior leader, Elly, who loved her job, came to me to tell me her child was facing challenges that only she could address by being home every day after school. She faced a choice that no one should have to make -- the well-being of her child or her career. I realized that, as an employer, if we force a person to choose between their family and their job, we lose every time, regardless of the choice they make. I don't want to be put in that situation, and I won't put anyone else in that situation either. So, a third option emerged. We created a role for Elly that allowed her to leave at 2 p.m. every day to pick up her son from school. While she has benefitted from this third option, I would say we as a company have benefitted more in the passion, commitment and focus that Elly brings to work every day.

This idea of a third option is often what attracts women to entrepreneurship. Women are the fastest growing segment of small business, starting businesses at one and a half times the rate of men. They are creating the companies they want to work for, filling meaningful voids in the marketplace and creating meaningful changes to workplace standards for themselves and their employees. For example, companies like AKRAYA, an IT staffing company co-founded by Sonu Ratra. AKRAYA sends professional cleaners to employees' homes every two weeks and provides them with a family gym membership.

The challenge for women, whether running their own companies or working for someone else, is to abandon the feeling that we must do it all and must control it all. Learning to identify what is truly meaningful and how to cleverly integrate those desires into the 24 hours we're allotted in a day is key. So, here's my advice:

  • Think of yourself as your most important asset and be conscious of how you deploy your energy and time. It starts with an assessment of what is truly meaningful divided into what only you can do and what can be accomplished by others. It isn't about doing it all -- in fact, it's the opposite. It's about being focused. To unlock your energy, concentrate on the things you are best at, that only you can do, and work towards checking things off of that shorter, more manageable list.

  • Reframe how you think about delegating. Think of "outsourcing" as providing opportunity to others, not just asking favors (though it can feel that way sometimes). It is about thinking creatively about what can be accomplished by others in ways that help them grow. Give high-potential young talent the chance to spread their wings, or an administrative assistant a chance to branch out into a whole new area through event planning, or your child the chance to learn important life skills by doing the laundry, or cede control of the grocery shopping to your husband. When you think about outsourcing as providing opportunities for others, you can help free up women from the feeling that they have to do it all.
  • Make sure there is time for YOU on your must-do list. When thinking about what only you can do, don't forget what only you can do for you. Whether it is a cup of tea in silence, exercising, reading a novel or spending time with friends, carving out time for the simple things that rejuvenate us will give us the energy we need to accomplish all of the other things we aspire to.
  • Instead of chasing the holy grail of work-life balance, know that there is a third option centered on work-life integration. Considering all of the aspects that make up your life, really looking at where you're directing your energy, and focusing on what's most important to you at work, and at home, will make you more successful and fulfilled -- both in business and in life.

    This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power" which will take place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.

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