Why I don’t believe in a work-life balance.

I don’t believe in a work-life balance. It implies that our work and our lives are two separate entities. Which they are not. Those hours you spend at work each day comprise a gigantic chunk of your life. If you are not happy at work, you are not only wasting your career, you are wasting your life. Those are just the facts.

The notion of a work-life balance implies a teeter-totter or seesaw life construct. It requires our work to sit on one side of our personal fulcrum, and our lives to sit on the other. The two sides are separate, but equal, and balanced. Other than in fairy tales, outer space, and 1960’s TV programs, you are never going to find the two of equal weight. Which is why I am a registered Work-Life Balance Atheist. (Although I still believe in God, Jesus, and Sampson.)

Something Better

I believe in work-life integration.  We need to construct our lives as a system in which all the parts work together to provide a natural flow. When our personal lives need to step forward and take the lead, they naturally do, even during the work day. And when work needs to be addressed while we are at home or on vacation, we can naturally allow for that to happen.

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Me and my sisters Donielle and Alison, and my nieces Norah and Celia on the set of a film shoot for Mizuno in Houston. Jennie Finch-Daigle, Olympic Gold Medal softball player, was there too.

My perspective could be skewed because I am a business owner, and my life and my work are inextricably linked. But you are no different. And the sooner you and your employer (or employees) accept that, the sooner you can create a happier, more satisfied coexistence of the two.

Work-Life Integration At A Macro Level

This work-life integration is the reason that my family relocated our home base from Atlanta to Milwaukee 2-years ago. For Non-Americans, this is a move of 800 miles, mostly north. And there is a story.

In the summer of 2015 I began serious plans to start my own advertising agency. It was an exciting time in my career, as visions and logistics danced through my head. But at the same time a major storm was brewing in my personal life.

My Mother-In-Law

On an ordinary August evening in Wausau, Wisconsin, my Mother-In-Law, Cynthia Zabel, coughed up blood. Fortunately she has more sense than Jim Henson, so she called her doctor and saw him the next day. He ordered an MRI, which revealed a small spot on her lung. He decided to do a biopsy to investigate. The biopsy revealed a benign tumor, that the doctors decided to remove.

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My wife Dawn and her mom, Cynthia Zabel.

The Surgery

My wife, Dawn, decided to fly home to Wausau, from Atlanta, to be with her Mom during her surgery.  Everything was calm and routine. Until the doctor emerged from the operating room to talk to Dawn following the operation. He said,

‘Well, that didn’t go as planned. We didn’t see the tumor we were expecting to see. Instead, one of your mother’s lungs was completely encased in a tumor. I only had two options. I could leave everything exactly as it was and we would take our chances. Or I could remove the entire lung. And that is what I did.’

So Dawn’s mom, now 78-years old, had only one lung, and, as the new biopsy would reveal, two forms of non-smoking related lung cancer. She would soon be preparing for aggressive chemotherapy and radiation in order to give her every chance of survival.

Our Tribe

Our Tribe quickly rallied around us. Including our close friend and Atlanta neighbor, Dr. Crain Garrot, who is an Oncologist. He became our cancer translator and counselor throughout the process. My uncle, Allan Sprau used his connections to get us an immediate appointment with a specialist at the Mayo Clinic.

However, Cynthia felt she was in good hands with her local doctors. And with good reason. She had battled cancer with the same team before, and won. In fact, in 2015 she was a 14-year breast cancer survivor. And she trusted her doctors to help her navigate through the new and more daunting challenge.

Life Impacting Work

Cynthia’s cancer diagnoses had a major impact on our family’s life plans. Since Dawn and I were going to start our own business, we believed the business could be located anywhere. With the cancer battle ramping up, and my parents reaching retirement age, it was time to make proximity to our parents a priority.

We considered relocating to 4 great cities. Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis. After visiting each of the cities, and a thorough evaluation (worthy of a separate post), we decided on Milwaukee. This great city on a great lake, put us right between Cynthia in Wausau, Wisconsin, and my parents in Lafayette, Indiana.

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My wife, parents, children and I got together in Wisconsin a few weeks ago for basketball and mac & cheese.  

One year after Cynthia first coughed up blood, we moved to Milwaukee’s northern suburb of Mequon for the excellent schools and quality of life for our family of 5. We found a nice home on a 1-acre lot, on a pond. The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I initially founded in Atlanta, moved headquarters to Milwaukee without missing a beat. And just like that, Atlanta had paid back Milwaukee for taking the Braves in 1966.

Update

Yesterday, April 6, 2019 was a great day. In fact, two great things happened. My mother in-law turned 82 years old and is doing great. But even better, we live close enough that we were able to drive to surprise her at a restaurant in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, enjoy several hours together on her birthday, and then drive home again. It was exactly what we envisioned when we decided to integrate our work and personal needs, and be closer to our parents during this chapter of our lives.

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Dawn, Cynthia & my daughter Ava yesterday, celebrating Cynthia’s 82nd birthday, four years after her lung-ectomy.

Key Takeaway

Integrate your career and life plans into one beautiful, fully functioning design. Don’t force the two to fight against each other. And don’t settle for less. We didn’t. As a result,  Dawn and I have been able to spend quality time with both of our parents in the last few weeks alone, here in Wisconsin. Which makes me feel like I am winning at life.

Additional Takeaway

If you are having health problems see a doctor right away. Take it from Cynthia Zabel, it could save your life.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

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