Can we talk about Work Life Balance for a second?

The Truth About Money

If we’re going to talk about the balance of family, relationships, work, and all that, it seems like it’s pretty important to start with why people even feel like they have to make a choice. Why not just spend all your time with your family and friends and enjoy life? And the answer is normally money. And if someone who has money says it’s not about the money, others say, “that’s easy to say when you have enough money to not worry about money.”

So let me start by saying that I don’t believe that the link between effort and money is a direct (and controllable) cause & effect relationship. I think some people are lucky. I think some people have some relationships that net them good amounts of money. And some people have a tough life that just sucks. Regardless of how hard they try to accrue wealth.

If you believe this, like I do, then it means three things, I think.

The first is that we have to learn to be happy living on less than we earn. All the time. Even when you’re 27. Not just when you’re 45. The earlier you learn this, the better life is.

The second thing is that you have to invest the time you do have at work mastering skills that are transferable. Writing and communication, programming, analytical thinking – these are valuable and over time, if you’re lucky, you’ll develop a depth that will earn you more. There are others. But there are also some that aren't. Pay attention.

Lastly, since sometimes the path to money is via a key relationship that opens doors, you ought to invest time building relationships because you can’t predict when or how they will pay off with a net gain of income because of an opportunity that you didn’t actually earn.

Notice this has nothing to do with how much time you spend at anything?

The goal isn’t more time working. It’s better working during the time you allocate.

The Truth About Patience

I just bought a 55″ Television. I spent all of 3 minutes picking it out. But when I was 27, I wanted a 55″ television – because the guy I worked with had just bought one. He also had a nice car. He also was 15 years older than me. And I had to remind myself of that.

Some ten years ago my boss sold some stock to buy property. This past year I sold some stock to build a nice pool. But ten years ago I didn’t even have stock. I kept thinking – how am I going to get stock like my boss?

We are all impatient. All the time.

It’s like we’re born not only comparing but wanting. And the worst part is that chemically, in our brain, the wanting and envisioning is actually more stimulating than the actual purchasing and owning.

Let me say that again – the wanting and envisioning is actually more stimulating than the actual purchasing and owning.

Which means we’re never – seriously never – satisfied.

So teaching ourselves how to be patient is critical. We have to learn to say, “That looks like something I might like. I’m not at the same stage of life as that person, so I’ll have to remember that when I get there.”

How can I articulate this in a way that you can hear it?

Everyone moves thru different stages of life. The stage when you may be young, have no family, have tons of time and not a lot of money. The stage where you may be older, and just be starting a marriage. Or starting a career. Or both at the same time. Another stage where you have kids so young they don't know if you're spending a lot of time with them or not. Or another stage where they do.

Comparing what you have with someone at a different stage of life is an exercise in constant frustration.

Again, it has nothing to do with how many hours we spend working. But it will mean that the money we earn, while we work, won’t get poured down the drain of “stuff” simply because we haven’t learned to be patient. And this means we can use that money on things that matter.

A small aside about Assets vs Experiences

Some people will disagree with me.

But eleven years ago I started focusing on the time I spent with my wife. I had had a failed marriage (that had lasted 20 months) end four years before I met Melissa and it was another two years until we married. But 11 years ago I went from someone who didn’t take vacations to a person who took 1 or 2 a year. And then 2 or 3. And then 3 or 4. And then 4 or 5. You get the idea.

Instead of spending money on assets, we spent money on experiences that no one would or could take away from us. When we weren’t on vacation, I worked hard. And sometimes a lot. Late nights here and there.

But our vacations were the way we spent money instead of buying stuff – which we could afford because we were patient.

They've become cherished times for my family – our together time. And as I've gotten older and as I've been fortunate in work, we've been able to enjoy both “stuff” and experiences. But that's also why generosity has been such a huge part of who we are as a family. Because we still need my kids to know sacrifice, so that they constantly learn to enjoy living with less than we have. I know, broken record.

The Truth About Hard Work

Today I am blessed beyond belief. My life is a dream. And I can’t take all the credit. There were a lot of lucky breaks along the way. But I kept my eyes open to the opportunities to build relationships, I was patient with spending, lived with less than what I earned, and all of that helped.

But today I’m enjoying the fruits of accumulated knowledge. I’m enjoying the fruits of accumulated experience. And I’m enjoying the fruits of constant and diligent work.

It’s like the dollar you put into savings when you’re twelve. It grows a tiny bit. But the next year, there’s compound interest. And it grows. And it grows. And one day you’re a millionaire because of that single dollar.

Knowledge and experience are like that if you’re diligent.

And the result of that is that you can parlay that knowledge and experience into roles that pay more. And in roles where you actually work less (though often there’s more stress).

I love how some developers have hit it big in just five years. I love that their products have taken off. But those are like the one-off stories of athletes I grew up with. They’re not the model. They’re the exception.

I count on the hard work from 21 to 41 – twenty years before I stepped into this community – to give me the opportunities that I enjoy now. That’s way longer than 5 years. And I didn’t mind.

Because along the way, I enjoyed the money I did make, focused on relationships, and kept a hunger about learning as a focus of mine professionally.

The Truth about Family First

I never once wanted my family to be second. Not in the last 11 years that I’ve had one. So I never really made a trade-off. I didn't buy into a work life balance.

Instead I focused on work life alignment.

My wife wanted the vacations. So did my kids. And swim lessons. And kung fu. And trips to Chuck E Cheese.

So they knew that I would have to work hard sometimes.

In the early years my kids didn't know I was gone on some days for business. They didn't know I would go to bed long after they did.

But my wife knew. And we were in a stage of life where it was ok.

In another period, I would go to bed, literally get in bed, at the same time as my wife, so we could watch a show and she could fall asleep – and then sometimes I'd get back up and put in 2 or 3 more hours. Or I might go to bed early with her, and then wake up at 4 or 5 am.

All of these were different stages so that I could value my family and still get my work done.

But to be clear – no amount of money will get you satisfied to take time off or spend vacations and weekends with your family. If you've spent a lifetime considering them a distraction while you try to get your work done, you may wake up to realize you've never really been part of the family.

I'm not judging you. I'm telling you from experience. I spent 20 months married (in my first marriage) and I worked like I wasn't really married. I was #doingitwrong and I paid the consequences.

This time around, I do life differently.

That said, until mid-June, my kids knew that every single month of their lives, dad would travel for work. This summer has been an exception where I shaped my work schedule to limit travel until September. That didn’t mean they were second all those years. But they surely feel first right now.

I don’t think there are formulas.

We live and learn. We make mistakes and recover. The trick is to keep talking with the ones you love. And if the job isn’t the right one – and makes you crabby even when you’re not working – then it’s time to change. Because no job is worth your life. Or your wife.

This post was initially a comment that's been modified a bit and turned into a post. The post that inspired it was on WP Tavern.