Work-Life Balance? Myth or Reality?
- Michael Beckerman
So I spent the first half of my career obsessed with building my company (a niche PR firm) with very little room for anything else in life. Day in day out, that's all I did. I was working 16+ hours a day. Seven days a week. Year after year. Sleep? Forget about it! Social life? I had my clients’ events to attend too :( I got married (later than the norm, I guess) at 40 years old. Two amazing kids soon followed.
Why so late? Well mostly because I had to wait for the perfect girl to find me :) But also I think because I sent messages out to the universe (yes, I do believe in that wacky stuff) that I couldn't handle raising a family, being a good husband and dad AND build my company at the same time. And because I recall many of my friends confessing with regret that they weren’t present when their kids were growing up. I just felt I couldn’t be good at being a dad/husband and an entrepreneur at the same time.
Fast forward and today I am in a completely different place.
I started a mobile news curation tool for the real estate industry with a small team, all of whom work remotely. It's been an amazing experience building this new company and also working mostly from home. I get to see my kids every morning and almost everyday night. I am really, really fortunate.
I recently read this article and it got me thinking… Is it possible to have work-life balance while working so incredibly hard? Do I simply have a better balance because I work from home?
The truth is, I work the same amount of hours, if not more than ever before. Still seven days a week, long hours every day. Just a different place with different challenges. Maybe it's because I am in tech and there is less a demand on meetings, travel etc. Whatever the reason, I just seem to have a better work/life balance now. (Maybe I am just more "mature" :)
Then I realized something really obvious. I was out to dinner on our usual Friday night spot with the family in my little town in central NJ. We were not alone; there were so many others doing the same thing. The only difference I noticed was that my family, and a few others, were actually talking to each other and there were no "devices" anywhere to be found. But when I looked around, the majority of other families were ALL on their "devices" and not even looking at each other. After this realization, I noticed it pretty much everywhere we went. Parents on their phones on the soccer field. At the basketball games the same. And on and on.
We talk so much about how kids are obsessed with their "devices" and so remote. But the truth is that EVERYONE is. How many meetings do you go to where people are on their devices?!?
And I realized that it's not how much time you spend with your loved ones, friends and colleagues. It's what you do with the time. It's how you focus on those around you. And it seems EVERYONE is distracted all the time.
When I am with my kids, I make eye contact. I listen. And because they only get their "devices" on the weekends for a very limited period of time, for the most part, they do the same. When I am meeting with people at work, I try to commit to the same.
Check this great article about Steve jobs and his kids regarding their use of technology.
And so while it may indeed be the case that it's really, really hard to achieve a work-life balance, maybe the answer is much simpler. That it's all about the lost art of being "in the moment" everywhere you are. In this hyper connected world we live in today, it's the little things that often get forgotten, like simply listening and watching.
So perhaps I could have achieved the work/Life balance when I was younger and maybe it was because I was just not emotionally ready. But I really think today it's much harder to do so because of all of the distractions. While technology has made us all so much more efficient and "connected," I don't think it's always the best type of "connectivity".