There are software developers in Silicon Valley, Wall Street Lawyers, serial entrepreneurs and even exercise addicts whose lives have become so unbalanced; they miss their being entirely. I have known many in my past, and there will be more to come.
Years ago, I knew of an ultra-marathoner and triathlete who came home after a long training session to discover a note from his wife saying she was divorcing him. His life was spent running, and eventually, he ran away from his family and himself.
I recently read an article about a young lawyer who worked such long hours, and he discovered that if he brought his cleaning into work and slept under his desk, he could save a fortune in rent. He got away with it for almost two years, but in the end, he understood it cost him friends and his co-workers because rather than admire him, they thought he was an oddball.
In October 2018, a CNBC article on burnout discovered “Job burnout accounts for an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion in health-care spending each year and has been attributed to type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, high cholesterol and even death for those under the age of 45.”
So it all begs the question if this lack of balance is worth it?
Some might call it “passion.” However, I’ve never known anyone who ultimately benefitted from having a life so far out of balance that it paid huge dividends.
Yes, there is the financial aspect. Wall Street lawyers, hard-driving entrepreneurs, and high-tech wizards can point to their riches after years of driving themselves to exhaustion. However, study after study indicates that although someone working themselves to death (and occasionally it does sometimes happen) may gain in the short run, they eventually fail in the long term.
No life is about “just one thing.” It is made up of many things. While many believe that workaholism is not a bad thing when the behavior is critically examined, they often regret the weeks and even years not spent with families, the loss of relationships and friendships, poor health and the experiences missed while pursuing an all-consuming passion.
To be clear, balance does not have to mean a 50:50 blend of work and play. For example, I am not against the concept of an entrepreneur, newly-minted lawyer or medical resident working long hours. I recognize it to be necessary, but to have no other joy, desire or fun is a terrible thing.
I knew a hard-working surgical resident, virtually on call most days of the week and often 24 hours a day, who worked at a hospital a thousand miles away from her family and fiancée. Fortunately, she had family in the town near the hospital. Every Sunday, like clockwork, she was invited to a family dinner. Before she left to go back to the hospital, the family packed a huge “doggy bag.” The extra food not only supplemented the green Jell-O and strange meatloaf in the hospital cafeteria, but it served as a gentle reminder that far removed from the hospital setting, she was loved and cherished for being a part of the family. Yes, the loving family dinners, little presents, and cards they sent her might have added up to less than 10 percent of her week, but it was an anchor and an island in the middle of a highly stressful sea.
After she became a successful surgeon, she never forgot the kindness or the thrill of being connected to family.
Often the problem the workaholic or even exercise addict faces is that long after the need to have an out of balance life, they become strangers to themselves and also their families. They develop a pattern where the only life they know is an out of balance life. I need to add, that although I’ve been using doctors, lawyers and software executives as my real-life examples, I’ve also known carpenters, dry cleaners, nurses and salespeople who have fallen into a similar rut.
Someone who continually works at a trade never stopping to vacation, play with their kids, taking the time to enjoy a concert or sporting event is every bit as guilty as the lawyer sleeping under the desk and storing his laundry in an empty drawer.
Fortunately, we all can bring balance to our lives. It is a matter of mindset, just deciding that we are going to do something away from our workplace and do something for ourselves.
What we burden ourselves with, we can also unburden. It is a matter of choice, and you make them, and they have consequences. There’s no such thing as work-life balance. Balance is work-life choices.