Veronica: The power of work-life-study integration
Veronica Merry is a USQ alumna, blogger and founder of the advice website MerryCoach. Veronica graduated from a Master of Business Administration in 2015, which she studied at USQ while also balancing an already busy life comprised of family and work commitments.
When I made the decision to enrol in a Master of Business Administration, I was 33 years old, working 4 days per week at a fairly demanding job, I was a wife and mother to our 2½ year old daughter, and running a household as my husband worked full-time. So as you can imagine – life was already pretty hectic and returning to study wasn’t a decision I made lightly. However, I really felt that completing my MBA was absolutely necessary to achieve my career goals.
So how was I going to make it work?
To be honest, although I was sure I needed to do my MBA, when I sat down to think about how I would actually fit it in my life, I had no idea and no real plan. My initial approach was to just try and fit study into my existing routine. This really translated to replacing my ‘down time’ (otherwise known as free time, recharge time and social life) with study!
After the first month of this madness, I started to get really, really tired! All those late-night study sessions after my daughter had gone to bed were wearing me out. I started to get resentful because I was missing out on those family trips to the park and hanging out on a Saturday morning doing craft with my daughter. I remember learning very quickly in that first semester that I just could not do it all. I couldn’t just heap study onto my already existing commitments. I had to have some ‘down time’ too.
While I got through that first uni semester, battle wounds and all, I made sure to make some major changes. My big ‘aha’ moment was realising that I needed to work towards achieving work-life-study integration – not work-life-study balance!
So what exactly is the difference?
Balance implies that all the different domains of our lives, which for me was family/ parenting, working, studying, ‘down time’ and health, should be equal. But it’s impossible for all these domains to be given equal importance and time. You don’t just stop being a parent while you’re at work or studying. Some things are just more important than other things, and for me that’s family. However, work is also really important because without income we can’t provide for our families. Study is also important because it helps develop career opportunities and therefore increases income. Do you see what I’m getting at?
Now, around about the time I was making the realisation that achieving work-life-study balance was impossible, I started hearing about work-life-study integration. At first I thought whaaattt? Are they trying to imply that work should bleed into our home lives in some sort of ‘always on’ workaholic nightmare scenario? No. The research was saying that modern life is busy and has competing priorities. The numerous domains in our lives all have value and are all important. Therefore, we can’t just compartmentalise each domain and try to achieve an equal balance among them.
Instead, an easier way to manage all the domains in our lives is to attempt to integrate them where we can and prioritise the most important one at any given time.
In fact, this approach to blending domains can actually improve our lives. For example, I realised that I could get some course reading done during those Saturday morning craft sessions with my daughter by making a spare copy for her that she could draw on and highlight ‘just like mummy’. Sure there were interruptions, but at least I got to spend time with my daughter. Studying can be so lonely! I loved it because I didn’t feel so isolated and my daughter loved it because we were having fun together.
An example of integrating study with work is negotiating to use work time to study with your supervisor as a form of professional development. Many companies have formal study leave arrangements in place for you to access. However, if the uni subject is related to your work, you could negotiate to use your workplace as a case study and present the report to your supervisor in exchange for using some work time to complete the research. You win because you’ve gained time to work on your report and your boss wins because they’ve gained a valuable report. You don’t know what is possible until you ask.
However, it’s important to be aware that work-life-study integration does not just magically happen. It really is a mindset shift from ‘juggling’ all the competing domains of life to blending them in a more strategic manner. What can help is careful planning, and over time you will become more skilled at prioritising the domains that matter most. Trust me, the mindset shift really is worth it.
For more advice on successfully integrating all the elements of your life, Andrea shares her tips.