“Jonathan I just can’t seem to get an appointment to see you, don’t you work in the afternoon anymore?”, a long term patient asked me as we entered my office.
“No, I try to get home most days to be around with the boys and Kylie, it really helps at that time of the day”, I answered politely.
“Ah that makes sense, I think there are more people that are doing that now, I bet your family likes that!”,she said smiling, “I’ll just have get in when I can then!”.
I grinned and nodded, but little did she know how much I have had to struggle over the last number of years to find peace with the imbalance of work and life.
Balancing work and life
Previously I have written about “striking a balance” between work and life and have use the term “work life balance” often to describe scores of well intentioned induviduals trying to be present for their families but also give their employer or business, their very best.
I have a confession to make, I don’t believe in work life balance
I have found that acheiving this isn’t possible
This is because in your journey, you will either choose work or you will choose life
Andy Stanley aptly described this imbalance in his topically named book “Choosing to Cheat: Who wins when work and family collide?”.
Andy’s thesis is that in life, we will ALL be presented with an opportunity to “cheat” our family or work of our best time and energy.
In cheating at work, he isn’t talking about sneaking in late and leaving early, stealing or embezzling and putting a poor effort, he’s talking about choosing your family instead of the relentless drive of climbing the ladder of greater achievement, chasing increased income and gaining recognition.
He compelling describes the increasing and unsustainable load that we place upon our families as we cheat them of our best, when we relentlessly chase after our work dreams.
Like any load, it eventually becomes too heavy and as much as our families try to hold on, it smashes into pieces as exampled by the breakdown of a marriage and issues that ensue from being an absent parent.
As I read this book in 2012, it penetrated deeply into my heart and revealed that as much as I loved my family, I wasn’t choosing them and something needed to change.
Choosing an imbalanced life
Recently a high school friend detailed to me how he is choosing his family first as he sets up his practice as an Oncologist in Perth. His choice to work 3.5days a week was to help out at home with his three little children during the season of unsettled sleep, busyness and noise.
He recognised that being a new oncologist he had the opportunity to fill his appointment books and time with patient care, but set out first to choose his marriage, children and health first before pursuing work.
This was inspiring as I hadn’t met a specialist colleague who was being intentional about choosing his family over work.
This article in the Weekend AFR about “part-time power dads” caught my eye, as it discussed how an increasing number of senior executives and CEO’s were choosing to work flexibly and part-time to be present at home and more involved in the lives of their children and spouses.
It also helped to solidfy this emerging trend of dads who recognise the importance of choosing their families and therefore courageously making the important career decision to choose life over work.
Our imbalanced life
Our lives have gradually changed since 2012, but it began with a confession to myself first and then to Kylie, that as much as being a GP anaesthetist meant the world to me, I desired a healthy imbalance of life over work.
What found in trying to choose both work and life, was that this led to a steady increase in the levels of my stress and anxiety, a constant guilt that I wasn’t working hard enough and I realised that I didn’t have time to fit everything in that I was required to do in my life, without burning out again.
The changes we enacted began as soon as I finished my GP fellowship. I changed medical practice and started experimenting with my timetable to reflect my choice to be a present dad and hunky husband to my wife Kylie.
In doing so, I have found tremendous margin in simplifying my choice in this life. There are still a few days that I am on-call and can potentially work between 12–16hours doing a mixture of general practice, anaesthetics and aged care work. But when I am not required in theatre or on-call (2–3x month), I am usually at home between 2–3pm most days.
Here are some of the decisions that we have made which have helped:
Where possible, choose to finish work early, trying to be home for homework, dinner, bath and bed time
Slay your dragons in the morning — Wake up early to do the difficult but essential things first, such as exercise, quiet time, study/projects/reading so you actually do them and are not trying to rush these at the end of the day
Maximise your skills to be able to increaseyour hourly rate, thereby decreasing hours that you need to work to kick financial goals (E.g anaesthetics, dermatology, side gigs etc, Kylie’s accounting studies)
Use your margin and time wisely at home to start traditions such as family dinner every night, family movie night, date night, date lunch, dad-son bonding time etc
Take one awesome holiday every year to make lasting memories because they won’t always love Lego this much!
The future hope
As I write this piece on Fathers Day, entrusted to raise three little boys into men who fear God and realise their potential and purpose, I am at peace with the decisions we’ve made for our family.
We may not earn as much income as possible or pursue high level career advancement opportunities but, I see my legacy in the eyes of my three sons and the countenance on my wife’s face is lovely and peaceful.
I see our boys grown up, sitting around the dinner table with their girlfriends and wives, laughing and teasing me, dotting on their mother and perhaps seeking our counsel on their big life decisions. I see them independent, secure, loved but also resilient and passionate about life.
This vision is our intention and the reason it compels Kylie and me to make these decisions now as this season will not last forever.
I see that being a dad who took the time to be present at their events, who was around to help and love their mum in front of them but most of all was happy and at peace with himself and not always rushing around and stressed about balancing everything, was a major contributor to their future hope.
Choose a healthy imbalance of life and leave a lasting legacy.