Work-Life Without Balance: When Expectations and Ambition Collide

Anybody who loves to work and loves their family asks themselves the question, “What is work-life balance for me?” I know I did. This series explores the times I questioned my work-life balance.

Several years ago, I was sitting in the audience where a very successful exec was being interviewed. He had just sold his company for more than a billion dollars. Someone in the audience asked him, “How would you describe your work-life balance in the midst of all this success you’ve realized?”

He answered, “I didn’t do a good job on work-life balance. In fact, I believe I ignored my family during the run-up to success in business. I am trying to make it up to my family now. I am working on figuring out what I could have done differently.”

He was clearly regretful.

But it came out later in answering another question how proud he was about what he had built. He said, “It took a lot a work, but it was a lot of fun. Building and running that company was my sport, my hobby. I loved it. I was built to do it.” Not so regretful after all.

This is the confusion with work-life balance. I love my wife and kids. I love what I do. Now what?

Then it hit me.

I, too, was trying to figure out how to answer the work-life balance issue.

The Bible in Genesis 2:24 says, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

As many of my readers know, I am a Christian, and therefore view the world as I believe God views the world. And in the case of work-life balance, it helped me understand what happened between Kathy and me after her dad hung up on her, having just told her she should stay with me despite my long hours away.

She didn’t have anyone to run to.

I didn’t have anyone to run to.

We were in it together.

We were newlyweds. This was the beginning of our life together. Just a few months before, we had promised:

“…to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith.”

In spite of this mutual frustration, we were clear on two things. One, we loved each other. Two, we were married forever. We’d made a vow, and we were going to keep it.

The frustration which caused her to come up with a “cut and run” solution was borne from her expectation of what our life together would be like.

My guilt in letting her down was borne from the requirements of my job and my ambition.

This realization led to life-long discussions.

These discussions resulted in a shared vision for our marriage. I thank God for giving me Kathy. She is smart, loving, fair, and truthful. Whenever I go off the rails, she loves me enough to let me know what she sees and how it affects us. She never allows important matters, like our relationship, to go unheeded.

Get to a shared vision.

Getting to a shared vision was critical in establishing a work-life-balance that worked for us both. But I also realized to get to this shared vision, we had to love each other enough to respect each other. Through this mutual love and respect, we encouraged each other to grow as individuals and also as husband and wife. And we had to achieve both at the same time.

To be sure, as time passed and our lives and responsibilities changed, it went wrong again. But Kathy would always step in and call me on it. This would start a new discussion which always resulted in a revised shared vision.

It worked. We are still together.

In fact, we are one flesh because we committed to living as one flesh. God got it right. Kathy and I discovered work-life balance. It is the shared vision for our life together with God at the center. After all, this marriage and family thing was his plan to begin with!