Two things I believe:

  • Work-life balance is a myth. We are all “cheating” something to make something else work; and
  • Our businesses and professional lives will only rise—and sustainably thrive—to the level of our relationships.

So, with those two things in mind, here’s a question: Does your family view your job/business as a mistress or a child? If you’re not sure, see which of the following best describes your professional life.

  • A mistress: is separate from and detrimental to family. Involvement with them takes time away from the essential things, causes you to be distracted and distant, and will almost always lead to self-destruction and destruction of family.
  • A child: is loved by the whole family and brings people together over the mutual desire to nurture and care. Everyone understands and recognizes the value that a child brings to the big picture.

Recently, I experienced the most stressful time of my career, when the product I invented was featured on Shark Tank. The entire process—from the first email, to preparing and presenting my pitch, to dealing with the overwhelming amount of interest after the show aired—took a great deal of focus and energy and was a very long process. All of this left little time for family and, unintentionally, my work could very quickly have become a mistress. I know, because it had happened far too many times in the past.

But armed with experience and determined not to let past performance predict future behavior, my wife and I had previously set in place some “guardrails” to minimize the personal impact of my busy professional life. For example:

  • We invested in a small cabin in the woods where we hike, go four-wheeling and seek outdoor adventures. No matter what else is happening, we spend at least two weekends a month decompressing at the cabin.
  • We have Sunday dinners for the whole family at our home. We are lucky enough to have all of our children and grandchildren local, so most Sundays the whole crew gathers to reconnect.
  • Whenever possible, I bring my wife and two teenagers, who are still living at home with us, on business trips with me. Some of our best memories are made on the road. But far more important is the fact that my family gets to see what I do, and they know why I do it.

In addition to these things, I’ve put more effort into mentoring and delegating at work in order to create more margin in my life.

Is the system perfect? No. Do loved ones still sometimes feel like they’re taking a backseat to the business? Yes. But this happens less and less since we put our “guardrail” stakes in the ground.

What are your guardrails? What systems or habits have you put in place to ensure that your professional ambitions don’t eclipse your personal life?  If you can’t think of any, it may be time to reevaluate.

Time cheated away from work can almost always be recovered. Time cheated away from family can never be relived.

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