Every man or woman who both works and has a family struggles to find a balance between the two. There are a set of standards and demands at work and another set of standards and demands at home. Too many of us focus on one to the detriment of the other. And then, when we realize there is a problem, we overcorrect and focus on the other too much.
The result is we end up living fractured lives. We develop a persona for work and one for home. It is not hard to see how double-lives develop. When we keep our work life and home life siloed, they will inevitably compete against one another.
There is a better way. Balance does not mean figuring out how much slack to give each silo. It means understanding how the two intertwine and how to stand in the tension between these two arenas without losing a sense of yourself.
The key to finding a work/life balance is personal, internal consistency.
The only way to do this is to discover and explicitly name what you want out of life. What is the vision for your work? What is the vision for your family? How do these two visions intersect?
The reason this helps is because it helps you to name purpose. Our struggles with work/home balance are not about “priorities”, at least not in the way we usually use that term. As if we need to figure out when and how much one matters over-and-against the other. Our struggle is actually much worse. The struggle happens because we don’t really know what we want out of either.
You are the same person whether you are at home or work. What matters to that person? What does he value? What does she long for?
When you can find the answer to these questions, it will help you determine the motivation behind your actions. And, spoiler alert, you are going to find that the reason you work and the reason you love your family are actually one and the same. You value what you value. Both home and work are a different manifestation of the same set of values. In that regard, they are allies. They are meant to work together.
Having a vision for your life – and one specifically for work and family – helps bring a sense of clarity and self-awareness to your decision making.
One of the side effects of this is that you will be better at setting boundaries. There are consequences for every choice we make. And no matter how challenging our season or circumstance, the choice is ours. We make choices based on which consequences we are willing to endure.
Knowing your values – the reasons behind what you say and do – will help you determine whether staying at the office late or coming home early is the appropriate decision in any given scenario.
There is no simple, easy, cookie-cutter solution. Learn to communicate to your spouse, your boss, your co-workers, and your kids about what is important to you. Stand by it. Be consistent. Navigate the challenges of which consequences you can live with. Work and home are just two arenas in the greater narrative of life. You cannot make the best of either until you make the best of both.