The Work/Life Dance

We’ve all heard about “work/life balance” to the point that it’s almost too cliche to discuss.  But the reason why it’s cliche is because it’s a universal problem.  Every working father must weigh what takes priority in his life at what time.  This is made more difficult by the fact that in this modern era, a dad can be on call 24/7 for his job and his family.  Technology provides powerful tools for productivity but it has introduced extreme levels of competition for our attention.  A wife, child, client or boss can vie for a slice of this finite attention.  While there can be more bounded schedules within a typical 9-5, work can still come home with you in the way of rumination on a bad conversation, mistake or ambiguous situation.  And what’s the easiest way to not have to process those negative thoughts?  Look at your phone.  Thus the phone can be a conduit of distraction from outside of yourself (boss, spouse etc.) or it can be a self-generated source of distraction feeding on your limited attention.  So the problem is not necessarily finding a way to perfectly balance work time and “life” time, the problem is how do we manage our attention so that we can be the most effective fathers, husbands, colleagues, employees and bosses at the appropriate times.

This becomes even more difficult because life is unpredictable.  There will be seasons where work will need more attention than other seasons and family will need more attention than others.  You can’t create the perfect schedule to address these with a perfect balance.  Thinking in terms of a 50/50 balance is a 2-dimensional solution to a 3-dimensional problem.  Instead of a balance, which puts to mind a stressful tight-rope walk of constantly trying to maintain a perfect symmetry, how about we dance?  

Dancing requires rhythm, timing, coordination and adaptability.  Different dances need different skills or maneuvers.  Dancing requires a leader and good communication between dance partners who can anticipate each other’s movements and adjust to each other’s momentum.  Your main dance partner of course is your wife.  And the better you dance with her, the better your dancing will be in every other domain.  But other dance partners can include your children, your church, your friends and your work.  Gauging when and where to put your attention is a matter of understanding your relationship with your dance partner and the rhythms and melodies that dictate that dance.  How do those rhythms and melodies fit into the broader symphony of your life with each one impacting the other?

It is hopeless to address your work/life dance without wisdom or without at least being on a journey toward greater wisdom.  The first step is to set in stone what takes priority in your life.   Each category should have its place in terms of its access to your attention and energy.  With these in mind you can set boundaries appropriately for different domains and how some can or can’t impact another.  Then you can recognize what season you’re in.  What rhythms and melodies are required for each and how do they all blend together?  And maybe then you’ll find a freedom and a pleasure in managing your domains.  One that feels more like doing the Salsa than walking the high-wire.

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