Chasing Paper: Real Talk on Work Life Balance
Hello folks! Hope all is well. It is time for some real talk on work life balance and what it means to me. Work life balance is a hot topic, especially for those about to enter the workforce or thinking of making a career switch. It’s something we all want, but the elephant in the room is that there are sacrifices no matter which way you slice it. Too much “work” and you are sacrificing health and wellness (mental and physical); too much “life” and you are sacrificing career progression and income.
It is a delicate balance and we all need to strive to find that balance that works best for each of us, individually. And not just in the short term, but keeping in mind our long term goals too.
It isn’t always easy. Sometimes work can spin out of control or you career progresses in ways unexpected which end up requiring a greater sacrifice. And you may not really know what you are signing up for when taking a job or choosing a career field.
It can be a struggle. That’s life. But before being skeptical or critical of work life balance, we need to envision the future to help us decide which sacrifice is worth making today. So it is time for some real talk on The Green Swan’s work life balance.
“There is no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.”
My work life balance was fairly comfortable when I started my career. I work in the financial industry and I am salaried. This usually equates to my employer expecting me to work overtime and not get paid for it (the customary time and half rate)! But my employment agreement said 40 hours per week and so that is what I took it to mean. I didn’t enjoy working extra hours, I wanted to get home in the evening and do things! I wanted to kick back and relax, watch TV, read a book, play video games, etc.
At work I took a full advantage of my lunch break, sometimes returning home for a quick bite and sometimes I would pack a lunch and read over my lunch break. Lunch was no time to work!
Looking back, I feel like a slacker. But this is how I operated for my first two years of employment. However, I would still say I was career oriented, I worked hard and performed very well during the 40 hours I did work, I just didn’t really care to do much beyond those 40 hours.
Shortly after those first couple years, I transitioned to a new position in a different department. Then the financial crisis happened and my perspective and value toward having employment shifted. That is also about the time I chose to go back to school to get my MBA. My work life balance began to shift. I was working around 50 hours a week consistently while also pursuing my MBA during the nights and weekends. Busy time indeed, but I knew the MBA was temporary and my work life balance would normalize eventually.
A couple promotions and a couple moves later and my work life balance continued to transition toward more work and less life. But I was becoming more and more ok with this. As I kept climbing the corporate ladder my pay kept climbing as well, helping to justify the increased work load and the more and more frequent late nights and weekends at work.
Therein lays the rub! I kept getting paid more, which helped pad the retirement accounts, which I eventually realized meant I could retire early, which meant the sacrifice I was paying for now could result in the ultimate payoff with a life of leisure by age 40.
“Much good work is lost for the lack of a little more.”
Edwards H. Harriman
A Real Life Example
So what does my current work life balance look like now? Well let me start by saying that I am a corporate banker, not an investment banker, but I occasionally I work like one. Most weeks it means 55 to 60 hours or work. It means I work the weekend once or twice a month. This provides a decent work life balance.
However, being a corporate banker also means when a large deal comes a long, for instance when we provide the financing for our customer to acquire another, it means I drop everything because there is a really tight timeline for a lot of work. I’m talking 90+ hours for two or more weeks in a row and entirely consuming weekends.
This leads to why I’m writing this article right now. I’m coming off the tail-end of one of these deals and I figured it is time to document how much strain this puts not only on myself, but my family.
The day after Thanksgiving weekend, a customer of mine let us know of a large potential acquisition it would like us to finance. And on 12/14, almost three weeks later, we’re still working hard and not sure if it will end up going through or not.
My week looked like this: long days and short nights; finishing up long diligence calls with the Company and rushing to quickly call my wife and kid to chat for two minutes before their bedtime; no time for exercise and barely seeing my family; takeout food for dinner and a whiskey or beer to wind down at night; multiple four hour conference calls with our customer and digging through over 600 research documents and presentations (thousands of pages).
And that’s just the carnage I caused myself! My wife was basically a single mother for a couple weeks: drop-off and pick-up duty at daycare, busy at work herself and managing dinner and bedtime with Jr, taking care of all household chores and trying to stay healthy and exercise herself. On top of all that, she had a four day work trip planned right in the middle of week 2 (Wed- Sat)! Busy busy!
It isn’t easy nor ideal as everyone’s stress levels are raised and by the end we are both completely worn out. For me, the first week is rough because of the lack of sleep and the fog I have to try to work through (hello fourth cup of coffee…) and by the end of week two and into week three is rough because of the deal fatigue that sets in and I just want it over with!
On the Wednesday of week 3 (12/14), we had a momentary pause in the deal as the customer and the company it is seeking to acquire are negotiating a few things. We are starting to slow down, although we know it could strike up again at any time depending on how the negotiations go. This worked ok timing wise though as Wednesday happened to be the day of volunteer activities at my work and I had my holiday party that evening.
Lucy and I march on though knowing temporary jams like this happen and hard work like this pays off. It now comes with the territory for me. In the midst of it all it can be hard to keep perspective, but we try to focus on the long-term knowing that these efforts are paving the way toward a comfortable early retirement.
“You can’t have a million-dollar dream with a minimum-wage work ethic.”
Stephen C. Hogan
How Does “Life” Factor into My Work Life Balance
I still manage to have a life. Like I said earlier, most weeks I work 55 to 60 hours, not the 80 to 90 I averaged in the example above. Those situations come around usually a handful of times a year. But they come and go and I don’t mind rolling up my sleeves every now and then. I’m busy, but not too busy. The worst part, honestly, is the spontaneity of these transactions and having no control or foresight over the timing. But when things slow down, “life” comes back into the picture!
“Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”
Life outside of these events is normal. It’s family time with my wife and kid. It is trips to the park, weekend trips away, and hanging out with friends and family. It’s normal. It’s the calm between the storms. But if it weren’t for the storms, I wouldn’t have the money to more freely enjoy the calm nor the flexibility to eventually retire early. That’s the perspective I try to maintain! That’s why I keep chasing paper.
“There is no such thing as work-life balance – it is all life. The balance has to be within you.”
I hope today’s post provides a glimpse into my work life balance, how it has evolved over time and context on why I’ve chosen to hustle today and be career oriented. It won’t always be this way though, it will pay off and the pendulum will swing back in favor of a more leisurely lifestyle eventually in early retirement. And I’m really looking forward to that day!
Are you about to enter the workforce or career change? What are your expectations for work life balance? Do you share any of the experiences I’ve outlined above? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Thanks for taking a look!
The Green Swan