This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.
“No one on his deathbed ever said, I wish I had spent more time at the office.” – Paul Tsongas
For many people, the holidays are the one time of the year when the “work-life balance” scale tilts heavily toward the life side. Whether you unplug and relax at home or take a vacation with family and friends, the holidays are a time when it’s finally OK to take a well-deserved break.
But bah humbug!
Soon enough, as we all know, the work-life balance scale will tip back to the work side. Some will be able to keep it in equilibrium, but for most of us it will be uneven with our jobs taking over most of our time and mental energy for another year.
When you stop and think about it, it sounds downright depressing. Working hard for most of the year with only a few days here and there to prioritize life, no matter how you slice it, it isn’t balanced at all.
When I first started working after college, achieving work-life balance was a goal, but in reality, I was more focused on the work part. I figured that starting out, life would need to take a back seat to work until I became successful enough to take my foot off the gas. No pain, no gain, right?
About 10 years into my career, a friend who was worried about my lack of work-life balance emailed me a quote: “No one on his deathbed ever said, I wish I had spent more time at the office.” This made sense—life is short, and I certainly didn’t want to be on my deathbed regretting all the time I’d spent on my career.
I took the message to heart. I knew I needed to even things out, but how?
Working long hours and weekends is pretty much required, especially for entrepreneurs. I had read stories of successful people like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Steve Jobs working day and night, prioritizing their work over all else. And from personal experience, I knew that there were no shortcuts.
As I went through the daily grind trying to grow our company, I found myself wondering whether work-life balance was even a realistic aspiration.
I would love to take credit for answering this question myself, but in truth I found the answer by asking others who’d already figured it out. Here’s what I learned:
- Don’t treat work versus life as an “either/or.” Instead, treat work and life as one and the same. Work is a part of life, not its opposite.
- No matter what your job is, it’s key to find some purpose in it, just as you would a hobby.
- Define what “enough” is for yourself. Billionaires, rock stars, any of us can fall into the “striving but never arriving” trap, making it hard to ever balance our jobs with any of life’s other pursuits.
- Make work social. I found that in my tech job, late nights programming on a tight deadline could be fun when I was working with people I liked.
When it comes down to it, each of us must find our own path. But I eventually began to see that “work” and “life” didn’t need to be in conflict. For me at least, viewing work as more a part of life, rather than a tradeoff, has kept me enjoying it — with no regrets.