When we talk about setting boundaries at work, we imagine strict, clear-cut ways to separate our professional life from our personal one. Yet for better or worse, life isn’t always as strict and clear-cut as the boundaries we intend to set. Sometimes we have to pick up our children from school in the middle of the workday, and help them while we’re in a Zoom meeting; sometimes an urgent work email comes through during our walking lunch break. There are personal and professional factors we can’t control; often, these things can creep into our boundaries, even if we’re great and setting and keeping them.
It’s not that boundaries aren’t important — because they are, and they’re crucial to ensuring we don’t overwork ourselves and run the risk of exhaustion and burnout. It’s that instead of focusing on dividing our professional and personal lives, and professional and personal selves, we can instead try to bridge them together.
Instead of work-life balance, where we may feel we have to give up one part of our lives to make space for the other, we understand how our two worlds work in harmony. Bridging our personal and professional lives means we don’t leave our personal self behind when we walk into or log onto work.
When we think about work-life balance — and balancing the multiple things we have on our plate every single day — we obsess over how to give up time on one to spend on another. “Bridging” offers an alternative; where we don’t minimize one aspect of our lives for another, but rather figure out how we can fit everything together.
Bridging our lives answers the question: How can we reimagine our life —and ourselves — holistically, both as someone who works and has a life, family and interests outside of their profession?
“Do you feel like there’s one version of you that shows up during work meetings and another, more authentic version that shows up with friends? It’s understandable — you don’t choose your colleagues or clients, and most work meetings require a certain degree of professionalism,” writes Susan McPherson, author of The Lost Art of Connecting: The Gather, Ask, Do Method for Building Meaningful Relationships at Work, in Harvard Business Review. “But if you see networking and work interactions as transactional, you’re likely missing out on an opportunity to form deeper connections, which can only happen when you show up as your full self.”
McPherson argues that while you don’t need to bring your full self to work, being authentically you — whether that’s sharing a bit of personal information or infusing your personality into your work style — can strengthen your work relationships. She treats everyone she meets as “human, rather than a work contact,” which allows her to connect deeply with whomever she meets, wherever she meets them.
When you bridge your personal and professional, you’re prioritizing what you like and want even in a setting where you need to be professional. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to find a job where you’re doing exactly what you love to do in your personal life; that job may not exist or may not satisfy other needs you have in a job (like finances or location).
However, by holding your personal values close even in a professional setting, you can find ways to make your professional work more meaningful to your personal life. Is there a project or skillset you can develop that connects with something in your personal life? Is there a work structure, or work setting, that would allow you to get work done efficiently and live your personal life more fully?
Bringing your personal self into work can ensure you’re doing work, working for and working with people that share your life values — which will make you more satisfied at work overall.
When we throw ourselves into our work and our professional life, we often get lost and estranged from our personal life. Bridging these lives together is a productive way to keep yourself grounded — so you never get too caught up in your work to protect your mental health and personal needs.
When we’re recharged and fulfilled in our own lives, we get to live happily outside of work. This, in turn, can positively impact how we feel at work. According to Chris Chancey, career expert and CEO of Amplio Recruiting, having time for your personal life can decrease stress, reduce your risk of burnout and lead to a great sense of well-being — both inside and out of work.
The best way to start bridging the gap between your professional and personal life is to prioritize: both your daily tasks and your values.
First, consider your daily tasks, not only what you have to get done but also what you want to accomplish in your day. Instead of prioritizing one world for a specific set of time, prioritize based on task. This will help you build your day in a holistic way rather than allocating hours for professional or personal time.
While work will most likely take up much of your day, figure out how you can blend the personal into the professional work day. Do you really want to call your sister this week? Make sure you set up a 20-minute break to do so. Did you need to do laundry? If you work from home, do a specific work task while everything’s in the dryer — and catch up on your favorite show you want to watch while you fold.
Prioritizing your tasks goes hand in hand with prioritizing your values. What do you value from both your professional and personal lives? Do you value excelling in your work projects? Connecting with coworkers? What about breakfast with your partner or getting outside during the day?
Start prioritizing activities that align with your values, both professionally and personally — which brings us to non-negotiables.
Once you’ve prioritized, it’s time to set your non-negotiables: activities you really want to get done today. This can be one, or a few things you think would make your entire day better. Structure your day around these, either professional or personal.
For example, going for a run is really important to me — not just to move my body and improve my mental and physical health, but also to spark creativity at work! If running is non-negotiable for me that workday, I’ll reshift my tasks, plan ahead and clear up time to get that done.
Other days, finishing a work project might be my non-negotiable. I’ll make sure I’m set up to achieve that goal in a healthy way — so I’m fueled, well-rested and connected with the right people at work to finish my goal.
Part of bridging the gap between your professional and personal selves is to bring more of your authentic self to work; however, this does not mean you need to — or should — always bring your full self to work. While some coworkers can be supportive, not every teammate or client deserves to know your full life story.
Instead of focusing on bringing your authentic self to every conversation, test the waters and find the work relationships you think will offer you support and meaningful connection. Invest your authentic self in those by being vulnerable, honest, human — and yourself! You don’t need to share every personal thing that’s going on in your life, but sharing select details, your real opinions and values can actually lead to joyful, fulfilling and productive work relationships.
Bridging the professional and personal can be difficult, and doing so depends on your circumstances, schedule and flexibility — which are often decided by the company you’re working for, your socioeconomic status and who and where you’re living with. Setting small, achievable goals that work for you can help you start to prioritize and fit your lives together.
Can’t seem to fit any personal time or non-negotiables in your workday? Set a goal to talk with your boss about lunch breaks and getting meetings off your calendar. Feeling unconnected at work? Make a goal to spend the first two minutes of a 1:1 getting your coworkers’ temperature, and remember what they said for the next time you meet.
Bridging your professional and personal selves takes time and work, but that work and time can lead to a more holistic, productive fulfilling life — one that makes your professional and personal selves even better.
This article reflects the views of the author and not those of Fairygodboss.