As you may know from my prior posts, I do some woodworking and fancy myself a “junior Norm Abram”. Norm is the world renowned woodworker and star of The New Yankee Workshop. In fact, I once made a $2500 dining table all by myself. It only cost me $4000 to make it! But, at least it doesn’t wobble!
One day I was out to lunch with a young friend that I was mentoring. He was asking me all sorts of questions about how achieved my “success,” how I maintained balance, and how I was seemingly able to keep so many balls in the air. I said to him, “You know that woodworking shop I have on my property? The one you see from the road when you drive by?” He knew it well. I continued, “I am never in there. It collects more dust than I create.” That is how I keep it all in balance. In a Michael Marcon tweet, it looks like this: “Work-life balance? It only appears that way.”
Life is a series of trade-offs. It is a constant prioritization of current reality with future goals. In fact, it’s triage, just like on the TV Show M*A*S*H, which I watched too much when I was at Ursinus College. There is slightly less blood, significantly less wittiness, and, at least for me, not as much alcohol. Yes, M*A*S*H was about triage. Life is the same. It is about triaging all the opportunities you have to spend your time to have the greatest possible impact on humanity given the difficult realities we face and the cards we are dealt.
In my post of December 13, 2016, I talked about the talents that we get and the fact that we do not control how many talents we get. We can only control what we do with them. It is certainly easier for me to maintain balance with a loving and understanding wife, two well-adjusted and self-sufficient kids, and a parent with financial resources to pay for the very best in elder care. Compare that to the person who is struggling with a special needs child and a sick parent without financial resources. Based on the circumstances, you could argue he/she is maintaining a greater balance.
I find that there are two concepts that help me in this area.
- Change the rules. After my formative years at Ursinus College and being trained as a financial analyst, I learned this simple mantra very quickly: If you don’t like the first answer you get, just change the assumptions!
- Find the aggregate annual balance. Similarly, I changed the rules with respect to balance. Who says your life has to be in a constant state of balance? Besides self-promoters tweeting about themselves all day and those living in the land of Hallmark, who else lives in that reality? So, I aim for having my life be in an aggregate balance on an annual basis. Daily balance? Forget it! One day last week, the day started out just fine. Then, a major client asked for his report three days earlier than previously discussed so that he could brief his board of directors. My casual dinner with my wife? Rescheduled.
Every New Year’s Eve (that is until my potentiometer gets built; see December 6, 2016 post), I reflect on the prior year and ask myself one question – In the aggregate, was I in balance over the course of the entire year? I grill myself like I got grilled at Ursinus College.
- Were the nights I worked late offset by the days I took my wife to breakfast and went in late?
- Were the client golf outings (not nearly as much fun as people think they are) offset with kid mini-golf outings?
- Was the company outing to the resort offset with the family outing to the dude ranch (FYI – that is just a made up example as I would never go to a dude ranch)?
- Did I put the iPhone down (also made up – I use a BlackBerry) and pick up the Playstation controller?
If I can look myself in the mirror on these, then…I’m good.
The other concept is to Pick Three. I once counseled a co-worker as follows: You are trying to be a world-class husband, a world-class father, a top-shelf executive, a scratch golfer, and be in tri-athlete level shape. There is a great saying – the sure way of pissing everyone off is by trying to make everyone happy. Life is the same. The sure way of being mediocre at all things is by trying to be great at all things. So, I said to him, “Pick Three! Pick the three things you want to be great at. All the others you will have to accept some lower level of performance / achievement, with some flashes of brilliance. I suggest you pick the first two and, since you work for me, I would also suggest you pick the third!”
I did the same thing. I picked the first three (See my post from December 13th, 2016 – it is in the trying). I don’t believe that I am world class. I try to be. I accept that I will be an average golfer (a birdie every now and then), an average woodworker (no wobbles, all fingers), and in decent shape.
So, if you still don’t think this is a topic that I focus on all the time, just take a look at the logo for Equity Risk Partners. It is my daily reminder. Feel free to use it. I don’t get royalties.
Michael C. Marcon is the founder of Equity Risk Partners and former chairman of the Ursinus College board of trustees. He tweets from @mcm7464. Tweet him any of your questions about business, leadership or life.