You look up from the printer as the little hand on the clock continues to slowly creep toward the eight. In a few minutes it will be eight o'clock on the dot. You look back down, your eyes burning from exhaustion and shake your head as the message "Low Magenta" blinks rapidly on the printer in front of you. At the same time, you hear your phone quietly vibrate on your desk. You know without looking who it is on the other end. You pick up, knowing you'll get the same questions you get at just about this time every night. "When are you coming home? The kids are almost in bed and you haven't seen them all week".
If the story sounds familiar, you aren't alone. So many people encounter the same issue in what seems to be a rat-race to satisfy both your employer and your family. Before you know it, years pass and you're still up against the same challenge to satisfy the two. Your children are older and their priorities change from looking for your satisfaction to that of their friends. Your work life continues this way until you're finally replaced by someone who can do your job cheaper and better.
Although a bit morbid, I think about this scenario often for one purpose only; to scare the crap out of me. There are times I'll find that I only see in tunnel vision, fully engaged in work, putting everything else to the side. Unfortunately, this sometimes unintentionally includes family time. It's at that point that I shake myself and think about the scenario unfolding of my kids waiting up to tell me about their day, but I instead choose to remain at work just because I'm supposed to. That’s when I realize it isn't satisfying and things need to change, so I kick myself in the butt and remember the balance is needed.
Aside from thinking about the what-ifs, I often think about how I was raised as a kid by balanced parents. Growing up my parents had anything but the typically 9-5. My father, an electrical engineer who worked at Polaroid creating cameras, was out before the sun came up and had a grueling travel schedule. But one thing he made sure was that he would always be home before I went to bed, without any questions asked. As for my mother, she was a nurse who worked nights. After spending full days with us, as soon as my father opened the front door, my mother was out in the other direction. Life was hectic, but they managed it well by keeping balance a priority.
If you didn't have the same life experiences to help you maintain balance, don't be concerned. I like to think there are three common themes that can be helpful to remind yourself of the importance of balance. These are more or less thoughts to live by if you have a family or plan to start one in the near future. I have used each for years and continue to do so as often as needed, and hope you do too:
1) Life is short - You've heard it everywhere, from your teachers to your grandmother, and it's one of the best mottos to live by. It reminds you that, before you know it, you'll be spending your days in a rocking chair on the front porch of your home wondering where the time went. It would be easy to suggest you look back at your work schedule as the main culprit. Not to say hard work is not appreciated or doesn't get you anywhere, but if you properly priorities your two lives, you'll appreciate the bigger things in the end.
2) Life is not all about work - There are far too many rewarding things in life that outweight grinding out the hours behind a desk. Your children, wife, and friends, among others people, need you. They need you to experience life with them and enjoy one another. If you properly manage your work hours, you'll find out you can have the best of both worlds and, in the end, you'll realize you managed it the best you could.
3) Balance should be appreciated - The environment that you work in is one of in not the most important aspect of your job. If you aren't happy, you shouldn't waste your time there. In addition, if your employer doesn't respect the importance of good balance, and you do, it's almost always a recipe for disaster. Don't be afraid of change, as there are many jobs out there that hold family value very high on their list. If you want to make the switch, why wait?
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