I was thinking this morning about my recent family vacation out West and our visits to the Grand Canyon and Sedona, AZ. That part of our great country is breathtaking and everywhere we looked around us on our trip, we were usually gazing at something so beautiful it looked like a painted canvas from a master artist. We had a wonderful time filled with great memories and it was one of my favorite experiences with my wife and sons. None of us wanted it to end. I also thought, with considerable regret, about all the missed opportunities in my life to savor moments like this when I was younger.
In my early 20’s, I was living the impoverished life of a new college graduate trying to get established in my career. I was lucky to experience the occasional three-day weekend, much less a relaxing vacation. In my late 20’s I got married and was enjoying more career success, but I struggled to truly enjoy and be present for the trips, vacations and quiet moments with my wife as I had difficulty at times blocking out thoughts of work and all that awaited me when I returned to the office and my hectic job.
Our sons came along in my early 30’s and I was becoming calmer, but still struggled to relax and live in the moment with my young family. My saintly wife always made sure we had fun vacations and we spent a lot of time together with family dinner and weekend activities a priority. But, I still found myself frequently checking email, thinking about that unresolved work issue or how my team was going to make our revenue goals when I should have been focusing all of my time and attention on the people I loved most in the world.
In my late 30’s and early 40’s, I began to realize something quite profound that I wish I had learned much earlier in my life: my job exists to serve my family, my family doesn’t exist to serve my job. When that thought began to sink in and truly take hold of me, it became the catalyst for significant changes in my life that took years to fully settle in. I learned how to leave work at the door and not bring it home with me. I realized that worrying or stressing about business-related problems during non-work hours was not making them any better and was causing me unneeded stress and anxiety which negatively affected my family.
I often share with my clients that time is a finite resource and we have to manage it well. That idea occurred to me many years ago as I was going through the evolution in my thinking about making sure my job existed to serve my family. I realized that every moment with my loved ones and friends was precious and I could no longer take this time with them for granted. I call this living life in real time.
I am now in my mid 50’s, my wife and I have been married for 28 years and my sons are in their early 20’s. My oldest son has high-functioning autism and lives with us. Our younger son is a senior in college. With intentional effort, determined focus and many missteps along the way, I feel I have learned to properly savor the important moments in life. I still love the work I am privileged to do and give it my best effort, but I have learned to turn it off when I need to and make sure it doesn’t have an adverse effect on the people I care about most.
I am sharing this insight into my personal journey because I frequently meet professionals of all ages who are experiencing the same challenges I have encountered. It is important for all of us to pause, reflect and think about what matters most to us…and I sincerely hope work is not at the top of the list. We can excel in our careers and still excel in life. You don’t have to choose one over the other and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
Here are five best practices to consider if you feel your priorities are out of whack:
- Make a list. What are your priorities? What matters most to you personally and professionally? Think about family, friends, faith, your health, serving great causes, experiencing beauty and work. Create a blended list that covers everything in your life that matters to you.
- Audit and Reflect. Review your calendar over the last few weeks. Work will likely take the majority of your time during the week, but where do the other non-work priorities from your list fit in? As you do the calendar audit, honestly reflect if you were truly present in the non-work moments or were you distracted by work (or something else).
- Turn off your devices. One of the biggest temptations is to let work and other distractions creep into your personal or family time when you have your phones on and check emails, texts or social media. Try going device-free from time to time, especially when you are with loved ones or friends. Be present and make them the priority.
- Be intentional and ask for accountability. Schedule intentional time on your calendar to relax, exercise, read, listen to music or re-charge. Ask someone you trust to hold you accountable with how you are doing each week. Schedule intentional time with friends or loved one(s). Give them your phone or turn it off and ask them to call you out if you seem distracted.
- Consider embracing a healthier version of FOMO. Fear of Missing Out is a widely panned behavior that likely affects everyone. What if we look at FOMO differently? What if we “fear” missing memorable moments with our friends and families? What if we “worry” about not maximizing meaningful experiences in our lives? What if we become more concerned that work may be the most important thing in our lives?
I assure you I don’t have all the answers about achieving the perfect balance of life and work, but I do have experiences and insights I hope will benefit someone who reads this post. The cover photo above is from our last sunset in Sedona, AZ a few weeks ago. I vividly remember every moment of that special final day of our vacation capped off by one of the prettiest views I have ever seen. My family and I stood there in silent awe as the sun went down behind the mountains and I know we all felt an unspoken sense of gratitude to be together in that specific moment. Savoring that moment of beauty with people I love was all I thought about…and work never even crossed my mind.