When my son was little, my wife got a call from his teacher. She was “very concerned” and wanted to schedule a parent-teacher conference right away.
Of course we were very concerned too and rushed to the school, terrified of what we'd find out. Finally, after what seemed like hours of agonizing pleasantries, Danny's teacher got to the point:
“Last week we did a Father's Day project and I asked the kids what their dads did for a living. Your son said ‘my dad travels. He's never home.'”
This morning I met my friend Alex Fraser for coffee. After I introduced him to another friend as “the most involved father I know,” Alex told me the exact same story except this time it was his daughter Micah and her teacher who were concerned about how much time Alex spends at work.
Funny thing is that Alex spends more time with his daughter than anyone except maybe retired or unemployed dad who is home all the time. And when it's time for her to go to private school and then on to college, Micah's going to be real glad her dad was busy building a successful business and earning enough money to pay her tuition.
It's not a matter of work life balance. It's a matter of doing what needs to be done. Work life balance is bullshit.
Want to spend more time with your family? Work less. Want to spend more money? Work harder (or smarter).
Want both? That's simple too. Just figure out how to earn more or how to desire less.
Don't have enough time to work out? Get up earlier.
Too tired to get up earlier? Go to bed earlier.
Too busy to go to bed earlier? Turn off the TV or log off of Facebook.
Ah… it's simple but it's not easy. And it's not what most people want to hear, but it's the truth.
There is no balance – there is only deciding what's important to you and moving toward it. There are only priorities.
Of course I'm talking about parents like Alex who are smart, talented, and educated and don't have issues or disabilities standing in their way. But even with all his advantages, Alex understands that while it would be nice if work could always be fulfilling and not interfere with other parts of his life, work is first and foremost about accomplishing something worthwhile and being paid for the results.
Maybe that's why I'm always surprised when I get automatic Out Of Office (OOO) responses to my emails. Sure I understand when people are truly away from their electronic devices for vacation, focus, or for a break from the constant “ping, ping, ping” of their iPhones and Androids. But nothing is more detrimental to work time productivity than returning to your desk and sitting down to hundreds of unreturned emails after posting an OOO memo for some much needed me-time.
So as we look for new ways to deal with the new 24/7, always-on world we live in, the search for balance is a 21st century snipe hunt. Most work life balance advice includes well-meaning but worthless practices such as sending OOO notices and using LinkedIn for business communication and Facebook for personal updates. But instead, by combining work and life into one comprehensive package of who you really are, you can be both more productive and more present at the same time.