Not me... not me... I'm not getting married. I shall remain married to my lovely wife. However, my colleague Heinrich Hartmann was married today and he invited us all to the wedding. When you pack a single backpack per person for twelve months, I can say with confidence that we should not have (and did not) pack appropriate attire for a wedding. So we managed a quick outing this past Monday to some local shops and acquired some passable attire. Let me say the ladies have it easy compared to the guys.
The wedding was held in the beautiful country-side town of Stemwede which is (perhaps not-so-conveniently) located a seven hour drive north of our place in Konstanz. The beautiful and "as-fast-as-you-like-it" autobahn of Germany was more like the flickstellebahn or gestopptbahn. What should have taken just shy of seven hours without "going fast" actually took over nine hours. Long day. It, however, ended with one of the best meals I've had the entire trip. Lamb on potatoes with lima beans, snow peas and sun-dried tomatoes with thick au jus.
About four weeks ago, Heinrich reached out to me and asked me to speak at his wedding. Honored and flattered does not do justice to my feelings. The wedding was in German and his childhood friend Sabine helped translate (and did a phenomenal job). He asked me to speak on the subject of work-life-balance. This is difficult because I feel I've managed to get this entirely wrong for the majority of my adult life. Those that think I have it all figured out because I'm taking a one year sabbatical with my family fail to understand a deeper more complicated picture. I thought it would be good to share the words I spoke there here on this blog.
Work life balance advice, dedicated to Heinrich and Lena
A few weeks ago Heinrich asked me to speak on the topic of work-life-balance. I was quite surprised, because I’ve always thought that was something I quite screwed up. I am, with my wonderful family, taking twelve months of minimal workload and traveling the world. Lisa, Zoe, Gianna, Tori and I are together for an adventure. From the outside, this might seem like the actions of a true master in the arena of balance. The truth is that I see it as radical recompense for poor balance decisions made throughout my career.
I must first confess something important and germane to my challenges balancing work and the rest of life; I’m a workaholic. I, like many others, cannot release grasp of a problem, until satisfying progress has been made. I spent the first five years of my career working 14 hour days for 7 days per week. This was before I had children, but not before I had a wife to ignore… and I can say, with certainty, I ignored her far too much. More times than I can count, I put work before family and it took our relationship to the breaking point again and again.
Lisa, on multiple occasions, looked around our nice house, filled with nice things and then looked at me and us and our stress and said: “I didn’t ask for any of these things… I asked for you.” Sage advice.
Advice is an interesting thing alone. It can be good and bad, it can be welcome or not, and there seems to be a never ending supply of it. Most often we are deaf to the best advice until the right precipitating conditions allow for its absorption. I’ve found that some of life’s best lessons are gleaned through observing the failures of others; not that they are enjoyed, but they are real, they can be close to us and exhibit uncomfortable clarity.
Many years ago, my father’s health took a slow but incredibly decisive turn for the worst. He has neuropathy: a life of constant pain and progressive debilitation. As this occurred, I saw my parents' dreams of “what we will do later” erode. These were my precipitating conditions. There might be no next years, or “after the kids grow up.” At least, not as I had envision them.
To me, the meaning of the Latin expression carpe diem stopped being about spontaneity and risk taking and began representing balance. I want a great job and I want a career that takes me to the top and be lucrative and I want that career to afford me the opportunities to change the world; I want a wonderful wife with whom I have wonderful (wonderful) times and make wonderful children who grow up to be wonderful people and make the world an even more wonderful place. Another quick piece of advice, what you want isn’t so important, the act of pursuing what you want is; that is where the passion and the pride are. During the course of pursuing all that I want, I found myself making fantastic progress toward one thing while all the others slowly slipped away.
The goal is indeed balance. At any point, I want to be able to stop and reflect on my progress toward my goals and be satisfied with everything. I certainly haven’t mastered this and I don’t have the answer.
The first step is to change the "I" to "we." Then all you can have is a vision, a lot of patience… and a partner who shares both.