Jack Welch, renowned former CEO of General Electric, famously stated that “there is no such thing as work-life balance.” Instead, he explained, “There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.”
Welch was slammed for pointing this out. Critics accused him of being crass and detached, but I, in many ways, agree with his insight. He might have glossed over the fact that consequences work both ways in regards to your work and your family, but the good news is that you can effectively manage both — and both can be uncompromisingly fulfilling. I’ll cite myself as an example:
I’m happily married, and have six kids. My family is the joy of my life; Three Pillar Global is my passion. This means plenty of late nights and early mornings, but I still make the time for family priorities. Just yesterday I left work early to coach baseball and help out with the Irish Dance carpool. Yes, I’m a workaholic, but I’m also a family man and I don’t think the two have to be mutually exclusive. My priorities are faith, family, work; and while I’m not the greatest at managing all three, I never stop trying. Why then, you might wonder, would I agree with Mr. Welch that the concept of a work-life balance is a bunch of bunk?
The short answer is simple: integration. For me, work is part of life, not something needing to be balanced. Many people feel that work is in conflict with some greater good, but I couldn’t disagree more. Work is a large part of what we are made to do ([Genesis 2:15] The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it). Rather than having a discouraging attitude on how work operates in contradiction to the rest of my life, I choose to embrace my work and make it an integral part of what I hold dear.
Let’s be frank. There’s not much I love more than business. I’m lucky; I love what I do and wake up every morning ready to dive in. Sure, many times it’s difficult for me to go home because I can’t wait to finish what I’m working on or get to the next thing. Building a company, optimizing teams, solving complex issues, and working with talented people is fun! What I love, I want to share. Who better to share it with than my family? I choose to integrate my business into my life, just as my family is an integral part of my life.
Don’t get me wrong — the integrated life is full of challenges. It’s an ongoing struggle to adhere to my priorities. What helps is choosing to live one moment at a time, deciding what particular aspect of life needs and deserves my attention at any given instant. Many times this means my work. I pull plenty of late-nighters and almost always have my Droid within reach. Other times, however, my priority has to be my kids or (perhaps not often enough) my wife.
Many times, it’s possible to integrate work and family. Last school year, I brought my three oldest kids (8, 7, and 5 at the time) to the office to experience what Daddy does every day. I had them dress appropriately, bring their school work (they homeschool), and work diligently. I taught them how to interact with professionals, and even showed them my morning ritual of prayer and a Starbucks run. That’s not balance — that’s integration!
Make no mistake, I struggle with continually keeping these priorities that I have outlined. I really wish and strive to be better. I often misjudge how much my wife needs me at home and more often than not choose to put out a fire at work rather than putting out a fire at home. This is a major flaw and one that I’m working on more and more. Sometimes I get so caught up in an email response or phone call that I miss the wonderful moment of my one-year-old begging me to play.
No matter how bad I am at implementing, however, I believe that my perspective has allowed me to excel in business, excel as a father, and be a not-too-shabby husband. It has definitely helped me enjoy my life to a greater extent. I love to share the ups and downs of work with Teresa. I love nothing more than when she brings cookies to the office or stops by so we can go to lunch together. I want the woman I’m building a family with to know the people I’m building a company with and vice versa.
A successful entrepreneur and man I highly respect recently told me that his pet peeve was how too many spouses speak out of two sides of their mouth. They want super successful partners who somehow adhere to a 40-hour work week. His point was that he (in 70 years of life and 50 years as an entrepreneur) had never seen anyone move up the ranks while holding that line. It just doesn’t work. That’s why I maintain that there is no such thing as work-life balance. There is, however, work-life integration.
If you love both your family and your career, bring them together instead of fighting to keep them separate. You’ll enjoy more success — professionally and personally — and have a lot more fun along the way.