I’ve run across a couple of fascinating — and impressively honest — recent posts from entrepreneurs who are struggling with friction between work and life. This one and this one are highly recommended.
These posts inspired me to jot down a few of my own thoughts on this work-life stuff. I’ve struggled with something similar, but I have a slightly different perspective.
(Disclaimer: What follows is what works for me. There’s no system here. I don’t have any clue if what I’ve learned has relevance to anyone else.)
Here goes …
I’m not an entrepreneur. I thought I might be for a while there. But after realizing that my timid attempts at business were defined not by passion or a deep need, but by their timidity, I did what I was always supposed to do: I acknowledged the reality.
And now I’m good with that.
See, instead of founding a business that makes ungodly sums in a buyout, the thing I want to achieve — my reason for being — is much harder and has a much larger reward. I’m pursuing it with the same rigor and vigor you’d see in a type-A “serial entrepreneur.”
What is it?
Balance. Life-long balance.
I want to see if it’s possible to find and maintain true balance throughout my existence. I don’t want to sway between work and life, divvying up chunks of time between the two sides like coins on a scale. Nope. Does anyone ever pull that off?
Instead, what I want is to have a firm understanding of what’s most important to me and make my decisions accordingly.
You know who does this well? Ralph Nader.
The Nader documentary “An Unreasonable Man” spends a little time looking at Nader’s seemingly non-existent social life. And there’s a line in there — I can’t remember precisely how it goes — that summed up Nader’s perspective. I think it was, “You’re either hard-core or in the wife corps.”
I respect that. The guy realized where his passions lie. He committed and made decisions accordingly. Granted, that’s the exact opposite of where I’m coming from, but you’ve got to give the guy credit. (If you’re interested, this Nader profile covers similar ground.)
Like anyone with a creative spark, I often mull big ideas and big projects. But I rarely commit to those things because I’ve already committed — wholeheartedly — to my family. I’m married. I chose to get married. I have kids. I chose to have kids. And when I made these choices, I knew deep down they were the right choices for me.
I used to struggle with the push-pull between family and work. “I should write a book,” I’d think. “I should build that business.” “I should get funding or take out a loan and pursue ‘the dream’.”
Nonsense. I didn’t have a dream. I had a fear. I was scared I wasn’t living up to my potential; that I was wasting all kinds of opportunity.
After the birth of my second kid, I was too tired and maybe too old to give a damn anymore. I finally accepted that I’m not that guy. I don’t have the burning desire to build an empire. My burning desire is to build a good, loving, fulfilling, life. To be a good husband and father. That’s my empire. That’s what drives me.
If I do end up writing a book, it’ll be because I’ve got the time to do so. If I start a company, I guarantee it’ll be a small business. Something manageable. Those types of things will only come to pass if they get in line with my real responsibilities and goals.
It was a long time coming, but I finally accepted that my perspective — the one I tried to drive down and ignore — was okay. There’s plenty of smart entrepreneurs building awesome businesses. The world will be just fine if I’m not leading a parade.
Sidenote / caveat: I love my job. It’s satisfying work and I’m incredibly lucky to be in the position I am. If I didn’t have this gig, I’m sure my perspective would be radically different. But I’ve learned (finally) to appreciate the things I have — like, right now — and at this moment I’ve got a great job working for a great company. If that ever changes, I’ll undoubtedly go through a period of doubt. That’s how life works. But this “balance” thing is my center; it’s my Weeble-Wobble core. Even when I didn’t realize it was picking me up, it was.