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Too much of a good thing?

December 3, 2009

Be present where you are.How do we “balance” work hours, career advancement, family and relationship needs? This seems to be a perennial topic of discussion. We want it all. Despite our technology, things don’t seem to be getting any better on the time management front. Now, instead of one partner trying to balance demanding activities, we have both partners in a family struggling with time management.

And here’s the confession: I’ve never really had a problem with balancing work and life demands. I believe this attitude, one of not feeling out of balance, is due to the fact that I’ve been lucky enough to always enjoy my work. As a result of loving my work, I can count on just two hands the number of days I’ve wished I could stay home; and that’s out of more than 32 years in the semiconductor industry at four different companies. Those “bad days” were either because I had to discipline one of my employees or because I had “messed up” and expected to be in trouble myself. In short, the only days I didn’t want to go to work were the days when there were personnel issues.

I’m convinced that if we are doing the work we love, then there is no such thing as imbalance between work and lifestyle from our own point of view. Now that’s not to say that we shouldn’t be aware of and perhaps adjust the time spent between career work and time needed to attend to important personal relationships. There can be too much of a good thing. And that’s also not to say we won’t feel some pressure to prioritize a bit differently than we want to. What I am saying is that we won’t feel the need to escape to some exotic retreat to regain our energy. Work is not a burden when you love what you are doing.

I don’t want my comments to be misunderstood. I’m pretty sure my family would say that I spent too much time working and that I didn’t get the priorities right much of the time. Also, I do believe in vacations, sharing parenting and home responsibilities – I’m sure I didn’t get that time allotment totally right either. Still, I don’t see the problem with not wanting to leave for vacation because work is exciting, interesting and challenging. Once on vacation though, it’s time to wind down and be fully present for loved ones.

So in my mind, this “life-style” versus “work focus” balance thing is more of an issue of being fully present in the moment than forcing an arbitrary segmentation. It’s about making sure we don’t overdo a good thing. When at work, be fully present to work. When at home, be fully present to home and family. When at play, be fully present to play.

I’m still at it today. I have no intention to retire in the normal sense of that word. I hope to continue working until I can no longer physically and/or mentally do so. I love what I do and can’t imagine not contributing to the business world in some meaningful way. For me retirement is doing what I want, when I want and with whom I want. I guess I’m retired! How about you? Will you retire to the rocking chair? The golf course? The tennis court? Or will you keep on working at what you love?

Comments (2)

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  1. David Salahi says:

    In a quirky and charming film I recently saw, The King of California, Michael Douglas plays a mentally unstable single father whose teenage daughter has to work at McDonalds to pay the bills. She (played by the terrific Evan Rachel Wood) complains of having to be the only one in the family to work. Douglas’ character responds, “Define work.” Even though he seems to be tilting at windmills he’s doing the work he loves. But the crux of the problem is the question: Is this gainful employment?

    In the movie the question isn’t answered until the end of the movie. However, in real life we usually, though not always, know the answer sooner than that. We may be doing the work we love but we may not be earning a living. Or, we’re not doing that work yet because we’re not sure if we can earn a living doing it. In each case, we have to decide if the sacrifices necessary to do the work we love are worth it. Or if we can learn to love the work that does earn us a living.

    Like you, I intend to be engaged in interesting, meaningful endeavors for as long as I’m able. But the question of whether they count as “work” or not is unavoidably tied to the income they produce. I think that’s part of the definition of work for those of us who aren’t independently wealthy. So, most of us make sacrifices in terms of doing the work we really love because we don’t perceive or believe that the work we love the most can produce an income that can reasonably support our families. But then we also have to take a hard look at those sacrifices to see if they are really so onerous. It’s part of adjusting our expectations, values and attitudes. And there’s a subject for another post (or book!).

  2. Dave says:

    Words matter, eh? “Gainful employment.” Would you consider it gainful employment if you were to work for a physician in exchange, not for cash, but for his services – barter in other words?

    And what is “income?” Is there such a thing as psychic, spiritual or emotional “income?” I’m not at all sure, so my comments aren’t meant to be a rebuttal but rather an honest question.

    I have the feeling that there is much more value to the contributions I make than just the “CASH” I might earn. I also feel that when I am doing something that I feel obligated to do (and I may well be obligated to do some tasks by virtue of an agreement), but which I’d really rather not be doing, then I diminish the value of not only the experience but the cash.

    The reverse is also true. I have been made aware of a teaching position for an MBA level Business Planning class at a local University. It pays very poorly. There is no comparison to what I could make in the same number of hours in my consulting/coaching capacity. However, I may still consider this opportunity for the other values I receive from the joy of sharing/teaching/learning with others.