Balancing act: Look close to home for examples of work-life balance
I search the Internet every week, looking for news about the latest research on management or controversies involving work-life balance.
Usually, it's not hard to find something interesting enough to write about in this space.
But as I made my virtual rounds this week, it occurred to me that I don't always need to look to the world of the Web for examples of people who are trying to build more balanced lives. Instead, I can take a quick look around my own home and find plenty of lessons to learn.
I'll start with my wife. I've written about her before, commenting on her ability to keep life in perspective and have fun. But the major difference between the two of us — and where I really need to follow her example — is in our relationships to time.
Time is a huge part of my life. As I've mentioned before, I hate to be late to anything, so the clock is always ticking in my mind. Because of this, I'm always the person in our family who is urging others to get their shoes and coats on and hurry up already!
My wife is aware of time, but it is most definitely not her master. This sometimes drives me nuts, because it means we're often late to things. She agrees that such lateness is bad in many cases.
However, we're sometimes late because she sees an opportunity to do something important, and she opts to act on that chance and ignore the clock. Sometimes that might mean doing something simple, like noticing that one of our children is a bit out of sorts and taking her aside, one-on-one, to find out what's going on. Other times it may mean stopping at the house of a neighbor to drop off a small gift, just because.
I'm often in the background, checking my watch and sighing heavily, when she does these things. But then I see the reactions of those she has taken the time to reach, and I know she is doing the right thing.
I'm going to try to remember this in the future and do a better job of not letting the clock run so much of my life. I'm also planning to thank her more often for being a good example. (I'll start now: Thanks, Stace!)
Another person who routinely teaches me life lessons is my oldest daughter. She recently turned 16, which means she has her driving learner's permit and is about to go on her first official date. She's also getting letters from all kinds of colleges intrigued by her good PSAT scores and interest in engineering.
Yes, all of this makes me feel a bit old. But that's beside the point.
She shows me how excellent prioritization and organization skills can make life both simpler and richer. This particular daughter always buckles down and completes her homework immediately after getting home from school each day. She knows exactly what needs to be done, and she finishes it as quickly and efficiently as she can. She believes in the "work first, play second" mantra I've repeated so often, and as a result, she always has time to read, write stories and chat with friends.
That's not the only lesson I've learned from her. She also does an excellent job of stepping up when there's work to do around the house. If I'm washing the dishes, she picks up a towel and starts drying them without being asked. If the kitchen table is covered with papers and dinnertime is approaching, she starts cleaning up. If she can tell that my wife and I need a date night, she volunteers to watch her siblings.
Better yet, she does all of this with a smile on her face, often while singing or joking with her siblings.
This is great for us as parents. Not only is she helping us, but she's also setting an awesome example for her younger brother and sisters. (They don't always follow her lead, but at least she's trying!)
I'm going to think of her in the future when I'm faced with tasks that I don't really want to do and remember that fun activities are always more enjoyable when the day's work is done. And that getting work done quickly and efficiently almost always leaves you with plenty of time to enjoy life.
I've learned a different set of lessons from my second-oldest daughter. She's just 13, but she's wise beyond her years.
When it comes to befriending people, she has gifts that are truly unique. We first noticed this a few years ago when she was invited to almost all the birthday parties of her then elementary school classmates. More interesting was that most of those classmates described our daughter as their best friend.
Even now, as a teenager, she has a sweetness and grace that makes her popular in the best sense of that word. She truly cares for people, no matter who they are, and she makes them feel like they are important.
Living a balanced life means more than just building a career and spending time with family. It also means looking beyond oneself and serving others. My second daughter has an innate understanding of that truth, and I'll try to do a better job of following her example by seeking opportunities to help people however I can.
I'm grateful for the lessons these three and so many others teach me every day. How about you? What have you learned about living a balanced life from your family, friends and neighbors? How have you used those lessons?
Please share your ideas, and I'll mention some of them in a future column.