Balance is simple. Keep everything in balance! All work and no play make Joey a dull boy. Simple right?!?! Not true. Like so many things in life, a simple concept becomes very hard to put/keep in place. If there is one area I have always struggled it is with finding the right balance. The big problem with this one is it takes years possibly decades or even a lifetime to play out to tell if you got it right. Sometimes even then it is only in the eye of the beholder whether you got it right. This one is so, so complicated!
I tend to always slant my balance towards ‘take care of business first THEN worry about non-business items’. I’ve likely missed out on golden moments along the way with my wife, kids, family, and friends because of this approach. I probably worried about things that in the grand scheme of things don’t even matter (although I thought they did at the time). These experiences wound up shaping how I view things now and how I change my views as time goes on. Interestingly I write this particular article while sitting on the beach on Spring Break at Mimi and Pop’s house. You kids are playing with each other and having fun. I could be out fighting the little waves with you I guess but think my time is just as well spent writing this (plus I played in the waves two days ago…and lost my glasses). That is a great example of balance. Investing time in the right balance of activities and people to leave a positive lasting impression on their lives and yours. Don’t spend all your time worrying about the long term and don’t spend all your time just doing whatever life throws at you. Find the right mix each day, week, month, year, decade, life.
I go about this from a long-term perspective. At the end of my life, how do I want things divided up? I have divided my life up into 1) early life, 2) mid-life, 3) late life. I’ve looked at early life (high school through the first job) as a time to do nothing but work your butt off. So many things happen during this time in life that can set the stage for a lifetime of happiness/success. Many view this time as the time to party it up and “experience life” as these are their “best years”. That was never how I viewed things and I think it has served me well so far. Getting educated and learning as much as you can during this time is so important. You will learn more about the world and yourself during this time than you ever will. You will probably spend a ton of time finding that special person to spend your life with and meet many of the friends that will be with you for life. You will spend countless hours learning and studying and possibly becoming successful at whatever it is you love. For me, I started working at age 14 most days after school and on weekends. I did this through high school. I went to college and worked 50-60 hour weeks while also in class for the better part of college. I briefly took some time to do what “everyone else” was doing and honestly let felt like I was just wasting time (so I got back to it). I took the intentional steps along the way to find a lady that would share life with me (and got the balance stuff close enough to right to keep her…barely). I took the intentional steps of finding friends that I felt would be around for a while then consciously stopped “being social”. I felt like people spent too much time with acquaintances (still do). Today I still have these relationships. They are important. As I was getting out of school I took an unpaid position with a startup company that many years later turned into my career and had a nice payout. The monetary payout in no way translated into a windfall and probably did not adequately pay for the many, many, many, many hours of life I invested into a startup. Regardless, I think I built my reputation and a career that will pay dividends for years to come. I don’t really (didn’t really) place a ton of value on classroom learning but I feel like I more than made up for that ‘learning by doing’…or better yet ‘learning to do’. All during this time, we started having you guys and making our home. Both of these (having children and owning a home) could easily be full-time jobs in addition to regular work. Your Mom and I took life on as a team and still do today. Many families do not have a parent that stays home with their children. Just like having a safe house, safe cars, being financially stable, etc. we believe having Mom around full time is important. That decision like all decisions impacts the balance in things. The decisions we make each day are constantly testing the balance question. Other people (and the decisions they make) constantly test the balance question. I think the questions that swirl through my mind most of the time are related to “am I getting the balance right”? Should we be adjusting anything to make things better? I think during this early life phase you always feel you are missing out on something on the fun side of things. There is just too much going on to dedicate quality time to everything. You’ll probably be tired, exhausted, burnt out, etc. I always said I’d rather do all this while I was young and had the energy to do it. Having to do many of the things we did at an older age wouldn’t be any more fun…promise. I also figured we were too broke to do anything else but work our tails off anyway?!?
Back to the life plan…I think the next phase is mid-life. You’ve figured out what you want to do, who you want to do it with (or without) and you do it. Hopefully, you can do something you love and can do it for a long time and be well compensated for it. Some folks call this your ‘wealth-building years’. I think I have moved into this phase of my life. I also believe we’ve done this at an early age. Your Mom and I are in our late 30’s…so to be moving into this phase and a bit past the ‘daily grind’ is fulfilling for sure. I think for most people this phase lasts for as long as things remain fulfilling or as long as health circumstances allow them to. I also think that during this period of life the balance from work to play shifts dramatically towards a more balanced arrangement. It is basically what you worked and sacrificed all those early years for. I compare this phase to a distance run. Set your pace to go a long distance. Enjoy it. You’ve earned that.
I probably don’t know much about the final phase – late life. I think the meter will dial almost entirely over to fun. Do exactly what you want to do when you want to do it. Your whole life has been about doing things for others. Continue that but make your contribution fun. I don’t think it is the time to just sit down but a time to do what you love in a way you love. Hopefully, everything you’ve done will allow that to happen. I hear folks talk about retiring and I don’t think I’ll ever do that. I think I will always do something in the way of work but at a much, much reduced pace. Whatever feels good to me.
Of course, it all goes to pot if I get cancer a year from now and wish I had had more fun in life! So be it. I wouldn’t change one single thing! Honestly. Rarely have I felt like I left too much on the table since I’ve been progressing my life each day to where I want it to be. If I had not tried to keep things in balance all along the way I might see it differently. Instead, I made progress and kept things in balance for that particular phase so everything worked and I have few regrets. If I had not had some sort of balance I probably wouldn’t feel the same way.
Are there things I wish I had not put so much energy into? Sure. Live and learn. At even my tender young age of 39, I wish I had put less energy into material things (possessions). I think we live in a great little house in one of the nicest neighborhoods in the nation. My commute is short and our life is everything we need. Getting there at an early age has put a strain on our family finances at times. We were always house-poor. We decided to be for a variety of reasons. Get closer to where I worked, be in a neighborhood we could stay in forever as you guys grew up, be in the right schools, have a yard to play in, have a nice little house we could work on. Everything has worked out fine. I sometimes regret the amount of time and energy that went into our home. There is always yard work, maintenance, and of course remodeling. Part of this was self-induced by trying to do too much too fast. This lined up with my early life goals of work hard. Now we are in a house that meets our needs and will for as long as we want to stay and it is no longer a strain at all. The heavy lifting is done (remodeled bathrooms, kitchen, basement, deck, landscaping, etc.). So it worked out…and matches up with my life balance plan well. It didn’t make it less stressful (and I never promised it would). I learned this lesson for good when the housing market stopped doubling every few years and everyone watched the values of their homes and stocks drop by half (during the 2008 financial crisis). At the low point of that gut check, I did not lose hope but I did stop and put into perspective much of the energy I was putting into most things. I adjusted my balance! There is nothing wrong with that! As I said live and learn.
If you ask your mother she’ll tell you I’m the most unbalanced person she’s ever met. This is just me adjusting my life to make it work. I get bored doing the same thing too long. I’m at my highest and best when I’m diving headlong into something that interests me or is new to me. Sometimes that changes from week to week or month to month. I’ve found that I can go headlong into something and when I get bored, stop and divert my energy into something else, then back to the previous item, or something else. Each effort gets my best until it is not my best and then it gets it again when I’m ready. It can look a bit schizophrenic but it works. Since I take a long-term view it actually works great and I make good progress in many goals and usually have lots of fun doing it since I only work on something when I want to. I’ve self-diagnosed myself with adult ADHD and this is my prescription. I’ve never been happier. Granted from start to finish many of my projects take a long time (which for some reason upsets other people) but in total, I get plenty done and consider my life (and my project portfolio) has been successful overall. So, make balance work however it works for you. It might take years to get it right. Measure your success by your results not what others think.
So don’t work all the time, don’t play all the time. Don’t save too little money, don’t save too much money. Don’t eat too much, don’t eat too little. Don’t spend too much time with one person, and don’t spend too much time with too many people. Don’t invest all your time and energy in one single thing, and don’t spread yourself out over too many things. Don’t make all your decisions snap decisions, and don’t get stuck in the paralysis of analysis. Simple Right?!!? No, not at all but focusing energy on getting it right will have a huge impact on your life. Life is all about balance. If you keep everything you do in some sense of balance you will have a healthy existence with things to be proud of and few regrets. That will equal happiness!
Love you so much!
[originally published 10/28/2012]