A disclaimer to start with: I don’t have a fix for this. I don’t know how to achieve a perfect work/life balance. I don’t know how to give 110% at work and still spend all the time you should/want/need with your family and friends. This is merely a collection of thoughts on the topic of combining a demanding and challenging job with a busy family life. It is simply a humble testimony of my own struggle to do a good job at work whilst being a good husband, father and friend. If you are still interested, read on.
Firstly, let’s be clear — work is part of your life, a big part of your life. So big, that you think about it for most of the hours you are awake and it sometimes even creeps into your dreams (or nightmares). For that reason I find using the term work/life balance somewhat misleading as it suggests that life and work are mutually exclusive elements. I believe that it would more accurate to call this topic work/leisure balance or work/free-time balance, but since work/life balance is a widely used term, I am going to stick to it for now.
Anyone who ever worked in a company that is any good at what it is doing must have come across a problem of work/life balance. The reason I believe this assertion is true is purely the fact that to achieve great result it takes people that deeply care about their job and the quality of the product they work on. Great products don’t exist because of mediocre people. Great products are created by great people who care about what they do. It is your passion for what you do that makes you start early and stay lateAnd as in any other human endeavour, the more you care about your job, the more you are prepared to dedicate time to it. A lot of time. Much more time than you are obliged by your contract or demanded by your boss. It is your passion and your desire to do what’s right that makes you get up early, stay late, to simply do your best at all times. And while that is of course not a bad thing, it also means that you probably find it difficult to balance the time and focus you give to your job and the time you spend with your family and friends.
In this context the biggest challenge, in my opinion, is: How do you reconcile your passion for what you do professionally with a desire to be a good partner, parent and friend? Both of these things matter to you a lot. Unfortunately, a day has only 24 hours so the more time you spend with one of your priorities, the less you can dedicate to the other. And what if you feel that for you to be able to do your job as you believe it should be done, to feel good about what you achieved and to finish all you need to do, you have to spend so much time working that it effectively compromises your family commitments?
I myself have been struggling with this for years and during the last two years I feel that my work/life balance has shifted considerably more towards the former. Not because I suddenly started caring more about my job or because I can ‘afford’ to spend less time with family. The contrary is true. But working 11+ hours every day and adding two hours for travel gives me less than 30 minutes a day to see my young children, usually just before they go to bed. Any responsible parent would agree that this is not right. It makes me feel bad about myself and it creates additional stress that I don’t need in my life.
I know what you are thinking — delegate more or change your job. But it’s not that simple, is it? The job itself (overall work-pace, expectations, culture etc.) is only a part of it. The bigger “problem” is the feeling of always having to make an unpleasant tradeoff between work and family. Doing more work means less time for family and friends and vice versa. Either way, I don’t feel good about it. Now, I could start caring less about my job. I could become more comfortable and could accept that average is good enough. I could just do my eight hours a day and go home. But is it really possible? Can you really care about your job and still have such an attitude? Is this the way to achieve something extraordinary? Equally though, how do you make up for not seeing your children grow up and not being with them when they really need you? Can you really enjoy your professional success for such price?
Perhaps, one day, I will get it right. For now, I will keep trying. All I can do is to hope that when I look back in ten or twenty years’ time, I won’t regret my choices.