As with most people, my primary reason for seeking better work/life balance has been to spend more time with my family.
After several months of focusing on this goal, I think I've had some success — and I hope my family members would agree.
For example, my wife and I have many more date nights these days, although that's probably due as much to having older children who can mostly take care of themselves as it is to my efforts at balance.
I've also increased my time with the children, helping with homework more frequently and just playing or reading with them. I've always had a goal to go on one-on-one father/child outings with each of my kids, and lately I've actually been having those great experiences.
However, it occurred to me recently that I haven't even talked about another member of the family with whom I've been able to spend more time as a result of leading a more balanced life.
That person is me.
I thought of this the other night after the children were in bed, as I sat in a comfortable chair in our living room reading a novel.
Many years ago, it wasn't unusual for me to spend my free time engrossed in a good book. I would read for hours every day, enjoying all kinds of writing and coming back often to personal favorites. (I used to read "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy at least annually.)
But then we started having children, and it was far more important for me to spend my "home" time with them. Since they also tended to keep us up at night when they were babies, I went years in a state of near-constant exhaustion. If I tried to read a book in the evening, I'd fall asleep after a few pages.
Just as the youngest child got out of the up-at-night phase, my work schedule got crazy, requiring more late days in the office; occasional night, weekend and holiday shifts; and work from home in the evenings. I also had some time-consuming church duties that kept me running at full speed. It was then that I pretty much gave up on recreational reading, with very occasional exceptions. (I managed to read and enjoy the entire "Harry Potter" series, although I sacrificed sleep to do so.)
As always happens in life, though, things changed again. My church responsibilities eased considerably, and a few months later, I got a new job that doesn't require as many late hours or as much work from home.
Thanks to these changes, I've rediscovered my love of reading for pleasure. I've devoured several novels that most people read years ago, starting with "The Hunger Games" trilogy, much to the delight of my wife and oldest daughter. (I can now participate in their Gale vs. Peeta debates. I'm on Team Peeta.)
The stack of unread books on my bedside table, many of which I received as gifts over the last five or six years, is finally starting to dwindle.
And I'm loving it!
But reading isn't the only hobby I've discovered or rediscovered since my work/life balance has improved. I'm also expanding my vocabulary — which is to say, I spend hours trying to destroy my competitors in games of "Words with Friends." And I've done a slightly better job of carving out time for exercise, which is an absolute necessity considering the rotund physique I've developed thanks to a sedentary lifestyle.
More and better family time are still the most important benefits of better work/life balance, as far as I'm concerned. But I've learned that it's also important to take time for myself, to develop hobbies, to recharge my batteries and, sometimes, to quietly consider my own thoughts.
I'd be interested to hear whether readers have learned the same lesson. What hobbies would you develop if you had better work/life balance? Or, if you have succeeded in finding that balance, how important do you think it is to spend time developing yourself in addition to hanging out with your family?
Please send me an email to let me know, and I'll share some of your ideas in a future column.
As for me, I've got to wrap this up now. There's a novel and a comfy chair calling my name, and it's a call I intend to answer.