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Balancing act: Don't wait to build better work/life balance

Published: Monday, July 16 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

Work hard at your jobs and do your best to succeed and advance, but don't forget the importance of balance.

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A couple of months ago, I was sitting on a bench outside of a clothing store, watching my three youngest children play while my wife and oldest daughter shopped for shoes.

I noticed a little boy, maybe 2 years old, toddling toward me, his young mother walking a few feet behind him. The boy stopped right next to me, looked up and gave me a huge smile. I smiled back and waved at him.

I was feeling good about my natural way with children as his mother arrived. "Your son is a cutie," I said, as he continued to smile up at me.

"Thanks," she replied. "I think he came over to you because you look just like his grandpa."

Ouch! I'm sure she didn't mean to hit me with a zinger, but her statement caught me completely off guard. (And it gave my parents and in-laws a good chuckle when I related the story to them.)

A grandpa? Me? I've got a 6-year-old son! My oldest daughter is only 14!

But as I thought more about it, I realized that my wife and I were a little older than the average Utah couple when we started our family. Had our first child been born a year after we were married, I could, conceivably, be a grandparent.

Two days after the "Grandpa Incident," as it has come to be known, I turned 43 years old. The combination of that young mother's words and my birthday led me to some rumination on aging.

For example, it occurred to me that, if I were to retire at the age of 65 — a prospect that seems increasingly unlikely, but a guy can dream — I would now be about halfway through my working life.

I also thought about how well I was taking care of myself. Or not. Which is one of the reasons I started exercising again, as I mentioned in last week's column.

Don't get me wrong — I'm not freaking out about my age. While 43 seemed ancient when I was 20, it seems pretty young to me now. And I've never been bothered by those "landmark" birthdays like 30 or 40.

However, I believe that there is a time and a season for everything in life. And I'm not sure I've always handled my seasons the right way.

I've thought about this quite a bit in the context of work/life balance. When my wife and I were first married, we spent all day, every day working as reporters in the same newsroom. Even though we spent long hours at the office, chasing stories and trying to improve our skills, we were together. Because of that, I felt like my life was in pretty good balance.

When our first child was born, my wife started her new career as a full-time mom and part-time freelance writer, which meant we no longer had all of that time together at work. However, my office hours did not see a corresponding drop.

It was still relatively early in my newspaper career, and I was trying to make a good impression. To some extent, I think the long hours and hard work paid off, because I advanced to an editorial position that paid me a better wage as I attempted to support a growing family.

Still, I'm not entirely convinced I did right by my family during that time. Even though it was a season of career-building, I feel like I could have done more to build better work/life balance as a young father. It's just not something that really crossed my mind.

So, for all of you young mothers and fathers out there who are just starting careers and families, here's some advice from Grandpa Kratz: Work hard at your jobs and do your best to succeed and advance, but don't forget the importance of balance.

How, you ask? Well, here are a few things you can try, many of which I've mentioned in previous columns:

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