Limits and Balance

Life-work balance is an ideal with broad acceptance amongst the professional class of people with enough time and freedom to have a say in this matter. Like early retirement, the ideal is romantic. Few people I know have resolved the conflict on their own terms. Nonetheless, I'm not convinced all is lost. In my own life, I recently abandoned the pursuit of balance in favor of a different standard. By necessity, church-planting requires an imbalance that scripture calls sacrifice. My experience taught me that the sacrifice demanded when making something new is endured by everyone connected to the craftsman, artist, or pastor called to create. My parents don't get all their calls to me answered or returned. I rarely see my best friends that don't live in Columbia unless our gatherings are scheduled months in advance. My wife and children often eat dinner without me.

To be sure, there are days when I use the necessity of sacrifice as an excuse for checking out. And there are times when sacrifice could have been avoided with better planning and less procrastination on my part. Still, the standard of balance has proven to be an unmeasurable ideal that is often redefined to suit the moment. Accountability, an understated principle in any relationship, is impossible.

Instead of life-work balance, I now aim in a different direction towards the imposition of limits. These limits serve as boundaries between the different worlds I inhabit. The limits are negotiated with my wife, my co-workers, and reality. For example:

  • I work hard while at work but I don't work at home.
  • I don't answer my phone on weekdays when I'm at home and my kids are awake.
  • My calendar for 2013 is complete. Vacations and weekends off are scheduled in advance to leave enough time to plan accordingly and insure I don't need to work while away.

The next step for me is to impose harder physical limits that make it impossible to cheat. There is wisdom in acknowledging our tendency to try and be in two places at one time. In an interview from Inc. titled The Good Life and How to Get It, the founder of Great American Harvest Co. notes how the hard boundary of geography imposed necessary limits on his work:

…for our first seven years in business we lived 17 miles out of town, the last 5 of those over gravel, and had no phone. No phone and a gravel road for seven years is a wonderful, wonderful thing for teaching the basic work/home separation habits.

Balance is easy when you don't have a phone. But it is impossible without the wisdom to admit that what we say we want and what we are capable of doing on our own, without limits, are equivalent.