Work, Family, Self: Choose Two

Work-life balance: is it really attainable?

I recently had a thought-provoking conversation with an old family friend around the topic of work-life balance. For the sake of this article, I’m going to call her Jane.

Jane’s a very impressive woman. She’s highly educated, has had a stellar career in real estate development and finance, and has lectured on business at a number of Ivy League schools. For the finance nerds out there, she’s one of the co-inventors of commercial mortgage-backed securities.

Over the course of a weekend spent together, Jane spoke to me about how difficult it’s been to strike a balance between her career, her family life, and her ability to take care of herself.

Her comment seems logical enough. Based in bustling Manhattan, flying regularly throughout the US (and often to other parts of the globe), she’s as busy as anyone I’ve ever met.

Jane said to me, “between your work, your family, and yourself, it’s like you can really only choose two [at best]. There have been times where I’ve really pushed my career, and then for twelve years my family was my main focus.” (Jane has a couple of adult children.)

“Only now am I getting around to [taking care of] myself.”

Are we forever stuck in this awkward lifestyle triangle?

Since our chat, I’ve been thinking about how this perspective applies to my own life. For anyone who is pursuing an ambitious career, is this what inevitably awaits you?

Are we destined to spend our lives wandering helplessly around a three-sided playpen?

Achieving work-life balance when it comes to work, family and self-care.

I’d certainly like to believe that we’re not. I’m not convinced, however, that you can have it all, all of the time. It may indeed be possible, but I just haven’t seen it done yet.

What’s the alternative?

My own belief is that we can live out all three, at different times, and collectively these experiences can add up to give us the life that we want.

Like Jane, there may come times in our lives where we have to put our nose down and focus hard on one of these three main parts of our worlds. A hard drive early on in a career can make it easier to look after yourself and your family later on down the line.

Directing your attention toward your family doesn’t have to be a death sentence for your career. Jane’s still enjoying a healthy career years after she put being a mom ahead of being a real estate/finance maven.

Where things get interesting is in the self-care department. Too much neglect here and your ability to perform in the other two areas can quickly evaporate. This is what happened to Julian Mantle, the protagonist in Robin Sharma’s classic self-help/wellness book, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari.

It happens in real life, too. My dad had a heart attack in his early-50’s as a result of high levels of chronic stress caused by his work in combination with a biological predisposition for vascular disease.

Clearly, it can be a dangerous proposal to remain focused on only the family and career corners of the lifestyle triangle.

“How can I have it all, at least some of the time?” is a question you may be asking yourself right now. Tackling this question might start with answering a few key questions in advance.

What does “having it all” look like to you?

Your idea of a balanced life may look very different from your friend’s, your mom’s, or mine. Is “balance” achieved when one-third of your waking hours are allotted into each of the three segments?

Maybe it’s about having just enough time for yourself, while keeping the pedal to the medal with regard to work and family life?

Is your family everything to you right now? (It sort of is for me at the moment.) How can you complement that part of your life through the other two areas?

What do you truly want?

It would be rude of me (and poor coaching!) to assume that you want an optimal balance of these three life features. Is this really what you want to sign up for?

Some people say they want a more balanced life, but go right back to their 70-hour-a-week job the next day. Is this something you’re ready to potentially change? While we’re at it…

What else are you willing to change in your life to achieve a more optimal balance?

What are you ready to let go of in order to find your own ideal blend of the three elements?

Is the 70-hour-a-week job really what you want? Does the job have to take up 70 hours a week? How might it consume less of your weekly 168 hours?

What self-care habits are you ready to commit to? Getting more sleep? More exercise? Eating a leaner, more nutrient-dense diet? Keeping your social calendar as full as you feel it needs to be?

Question everything about your life as it is right now. Then, start to imagine the possible shifts that will take you toward the life you truly want. There’s no need to feel trapped in a triangle.

You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight.

Jim Rohn

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2 thoughts on “Work, Family, Self: Choose Two

  1. You nailed it Mike! Making the right choices and finding a better balance can be really daunting. I am so grateful to have made the choice a year and a half ago to move my work closer to home. And now to have made the choice to walk to and from work as many days a week as possible. Better balance ❤️❤️❤️

    1. Thanks for reading, Sheelagh, and congratulations for taking action and changing your life! It’s amazing how small adjustments (and sometimes big ones!) can add up to make major differences, especially over time! Enjoy those walks! 🙂

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