“Work can become a refuge from problems at home.”
In the ongoing survey at Men in BalanceTM, a surprising number of men (33%) said they consider themselves workaholics. Another large group (68%) said they bring the frustrations of work home with them, check email frequently at home or otherwise are “on duty” at home. The majority (62%) said they enjoy their work and that time can slip away from them when they are working.1
These figures are not very different from other surveys which report similar results. As men, we enjoy our work. It gives us significance and meaning. It draws on our strengths of productivity, leadership, purpose, and results, but it can expand and take over our lives as well. It can become a refuge from problems at home, relationship issues, and intractable problems in our personal lives. Our survey shows that 70% of men feel a lot of pressure to provide well for their family and more than a third have had conflict with their partner over the number of hours they work.2
One complicating factor is that sometimes men allow themselves to be defined by their career—to such an extent that if they are fired or retire, they feel they have lost their identity. (See the chapter on How Our Failure to Develop Our Whole Selves Leaves Us Incomplete.)
I was told by one man that he spent his working hours at the library for more than a week to keep from telling his wife he had lost his job. Then there’s the legendary story about former president Lyndon Johnson who, when he retired to his farm, missed tracking world events. So he had his workers keep a spreadsheet on every hen’s egg production and the totals by day and month. Old habits linger.
Two-career households create their own problems. Some men feel threatened if the partner makes more than he does, for example. But also, there is the question of whose career takes precedence if a move is indicated because of a promotion or company relocation. These times call for an openness and flexibility about roles and especially who is the breadwinner (whose salary is more important) and what is implied by that. Could you, for example, see yourself as a stay at home father? Or taking the main responsibility for child rearing and household activities? These topics demand real and genuine dialogue between partners, the kind of dialogue possible only if the communication channels are clear and you are confident about your role in the relationship.
Work to live?
It comes around sooner than you think. Suddenly you have logged 15 or 20 years in your career perhaps without intentionally planning your future. It is important to know how work fits into your life. I’m sure you’ve heard that often at 40 to 50 years old, many men enter what has been labeled a “Mid-life Crisis.” This is a well-documented phenomenon. The symptoms typically include disillusionment with work and personal life. You realize you are not going to be president of the company or get rich, you haven’t planned properly for retirement, or your skill set may be rusty. And things aren’t going well at home. There are incessant demands for a higher standard of living. The teenage kids are impossible. There isn’t much intimacy any more. And you’re feeling a “spiritual vacuum”–a sort of cynicism about life and what it is supposed to be about. (See Introduction.)
Yes, work can be very rewarding–seductively so. It gives us meaning and purpose and is a real stimulant to our creativity and sense of well-being. But like anything else, it needs to be kept in balance. In an interview on Men in Balance Radio, Davidson Basketball Coach Bob McKillop notes that for him career and spirituality go hand in hand and a strong spirituality is good for your career. (See How Our Failure to Develop Our Whole Selves Leaves Us Incomplete.)
Even if you aren’t in the “crisis” stage of feeling negative about your life, failing to keep this exciting occupational calling of yours proportionately in balance with the other elements of your life can be a problem. Missing the kids’ sports events, birthday parties, etc., takes a toll on relationships with your wife and children. Missed dinners with the family or working weekends or while on vacation also begins to take the oxygen out of a marriage.
If you have gotten unpleasant feedback at home about the number of hours you work, it’s probably time for a re-evaluation. Work can be addictive, and much like alcohol or drugs, it can take us away from family and become a source of imbalance in our lives.3 Not tending to relationships along the way has consequences. It is worth noting that there are some companies which emphasize Family in their core values, expecting employees to make family a priority because that is good for business. More importantly, YOU can make it a priority.
While it may be hard to imagine it happening to you, many men find too late that the kids are away at college and they are face to face with a wife they barely know because of the demanding requirements of work and raising a family. The “empty nest” syndrome is real and a lot of men make poor decisions at that time by looking for excitement in a younger woman, a racy car and a different lifestyle, sometimes ditching all they have worked for. It is easy to blame all those who have taken you for granted, especially the wife. It may sound crazy, but our goal should be to never place blame. Placing blame is living in the past and is a waste of time. It also suggests we consider ourselves better than the person we are blaming and that we see ourselves as flawless. You might need counseling to deal with this life passage.
Are you aligned? With what?
Pat Morley, in his book, Man in the Mirror, talks about climbing the ladder of success only to realize the ladder has been leaning against the wrong wall.4 In other words, some thoughtfulness and discernment is needed to make sure your values are not being compromised or lost along the way, that your partner is on board with your life direction, and that your emotional and spiritual needs are aligned with your career goals.
Like it or not, you are a spiritual being, not to be confused with a religious being, and your psyche is at its best when you share your abilities by helping others instead of blindly accumulating more stuff or putting in more hours. If your life is consumed with selfish
ambition, there is little time for generosity and its psychological rewards. Somewhere along the way, you will become aware that, as humans, we find our true purpose outside of ourselves, seeing needs and responding to them, having an awareness of a larger purpose to our lives. That is what our spiritual nature is about.
This might be a good time to connect integrity to spirituality. Having a strong sense of integrity as a core value can keep you from straying into undesirable areas. To always be what you say you are is the goal. Integrity comes from the same root as integer, meaning “one.” Oneness with yourself is a goal worth pursuing.
What’s Ahead for You?
I know some of these concepts can sound soft and “mushy” or even trite, but I have seen so many men go through this cycle that I ask you to consider factoring this idea into your thinking: Without a larger purpose and commitment, life can seem meaningless. Without a moral compass to keep us on track, we can drift into behaviors we can’t imagine. We can lose sight of the simple yet essential things in life that really matter and bring us lasting pleasure. Whether you attend church or not, whether you believe in God or not, you need spiritual grounding to your life. Otherwise, as one of the Men in BalanceTM participants said, you feel like you are going through the motions in life with little joy and purpose. Not good.
Just to take this a step further: Not only are you a spiritual being, it is important for you to be the spiritual leader of the family, working with your partner to teach children that life has a larger purpose and their future will be more rewarding if they seriously develop that side of themselves.
You’ve heard the saying that no man has ever claimed on his deathbed that he wished he had spent more time at work. Facing our mortality has a way of bringing priorities into focus. At 30 you can change your future; at 50 it’s a lot harder. If you are retired, you can find fulfillment offering yourself as a mentor to your son or son-in-law or others, sharing what you have learned along the way.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- What gives my life meaning, real meaning? Will that change when I retire?
- Are my relationships in working order? What has damaged them?
- Do I feel I am in a race for things with little lasting value?
Here’s the point I want you to get from all this: Yes, your career is supremely important in your life. Yes, achievement in your career is very rewarding. But if that is primarily what you focus on in your life, you will have missed a lot. You will seem one-dimensional, especially to your partner who longs for deeper connection with your true and best self. Learning that you have neglected this part of yourself is the definition of mid-life crisis—it is your primal spiritual nature crying out for something more, something lasting, something that brings real meaning and purpose to life. (See Lesson 10 How Our Failure to Develop Our Whole Selves Leaves Us Incomplete)
As men, career is doubtless very important to us. The hard work we do is a gift to our family. It is important for us to feel appreciated for this effort. On the other hand, we can let work get out of control and cause us to shortchange our family and miss out on closeness with our partner. When we receive feedback that career has overgrown its boundaries, we need to rein it back in before our marriage and family relationships are put at risk. It is important to realize that life is more than career and work, in fact it is more about the vital relationships that sustain us and the contributions we can make to each other’s lives. Being aware of this truth is vital.
The Balanced Approach
Career balance involves adhering to a core concept of not sacrificing your personal life or values for a job or career.
|Keeping your balance
On the scale below put a ^ mark where you think you are in your work/life balance and another ^ where you would like to be and will work toward.
Why It’s Called Work
Do your best to estimate the following. If you are not currently working, use experiences from the last time you were working full time:
____ The number of hours spent at work in a typical week.
____ The number of hours spent on work at home in a typical
How does work impact the amount of time you are able to spend with your family? Can you quantify this?
How does work impact the amount of time you are able to spend on personal interests? Can you quantify this?
In what ways does work shape your personal friendships?
In what ways does work shape your non-work activities?
What benefits might balancing work and home life provide for you?
- In all honesty, are you a workaholic? Are you honest with yourself about the hours you work and are you at peace with how much you work?
- Are you using work to avoid problems at home or elsewhere in your life?
- Are you and your partner in sync about work and its place in your relationship? If not, are you willing to discuss and modify that?
- Do you feel resentful having to change something you love (work) for a family which might not appreciate your sacrifice?
- Are you willing to make changes in priorities and think creatively about balancing work and family?
- How satisfied are you with your retirement plan (not the money but the personal time)?
- What personal interests, hobbies have you put on hold for the sake of the job/career?
Action Steps Men Can Take
- For 90 days, keep an accurate log of work time. Include in it any missed family events and complaints about hours you are working.
- Find an older mentor who will talk honestly with you about work/life balance issues and priorities.
- Objectively decide what changes you need to make, if any, regarding work and its place in your life.
- Discuss with your employer your work commitments and negotiate mutually acceptable changes.
- Have an open discussion with your wife concerning your feelings about work.
- Take a family vacation and rigidly avoid work-related events. No calls, emails.
- Rigidly resist answering emails/texts after hours or checking email during family time.
- Write 2 paragraphs about how you see your life after retirement. Share with your partner.
- Record your commitments on the Personal Action Plan on page 194.
Action Steps Women Can Take
- Try to initiate a loving, empathic discussion with your man about work/life balance. Talk about what YOU need instead of criticizing him.
- Get some counseling to discover ways to improve home life in spite of the work issue.
- Stop nagging about this subject. Resolve to find mutually acceptable solutions. Don’t issue ultimatums.
- Develop a list of activities which will interest your partner, and schedule them (e.g. trips, visits to friends, etc.).
- Keep in mind that your partner may feel work commitments are a gift to you and you seem to be rejecting it.
- Laying on the guilt seldom works. Expressing your needs has a better chance.
- Develop other interests to consume your time putting less stress on the relationship but set some realistic boundaries for yourself about what is fair.
- Be plentiful with forgiveness and praise. Assume positive intent on his part.
- If your partner already demonstrates a good model in this area, tell him directly.