by David B. Bohl
Life balance. How do we attain a balanced life today amid all of societal expectations? Many of us were raised and lived our lives believing: I’m the man. In order to be a man, I have to shut my mouth and keep things to myself. I have to bury my emotions, and I can’t make mistakes. If I do, I certainly can’t let anybody know that I did, and, above all, I have to quietly solve my own problems without anybody knowing that I had any in the first place. If I show fear, that’s a sign of weakness, making me something “less” than a man. Not only should I remain stoic, but I’m also expected to put up a front that everything in my world and in my life is great, especially to those who are closest to me.
On top of all that, I’m expected to be the bread winner and have a constant innate drive to always get ahead and be more than I am today. I am what I do. I am judged by what I acquire—house, car, real estate, money. Successful people don’t have to play by the rules; they can leave work early to play golf. I am expected to work only long enough to accumulate massive wealth and massive toys. Then, to show that I’ve arrived, I can retire early, lead a life of leisure, and live off my investments. But do we have to wait that long to live a balanced life?
Traditionally, a man’s profession and his ability to bring home a paycheck have defined who that man was. Most of us grew up believing in the conventional symbols of manhood—wealth, power, and status. As a result, there are clear emotional and financial costs involved in making other choices.
Let me describe what my life looked like, and how my belief in the traditional definitions of my “being” a man led to a far from balanced life. I had started a business with one partner, and in seven years grown it into one of the largest and most profitable firms in its market, with many employees. My working hours were, literally, dawn to dusk, my stress levels were through the roof, and the money was rolling in. I was 33 years old, and, I was the man.
I was also greedy, and so we decided that we needed to take our company global. We partnered with a London based firm and committed to a five year arrangement. Within a year, here’s what my typical week looked like: I’d fly from home, (Chicago), to New York on Sunday evening. I’d work Monday and Tuesday in New York, often entertaining clients on Monday evening. Tuesday nights, I’d catch an overnight flight to London, work a full day there, and fly back to New York Wednesday night. I’d work two more days in Manhattan, and fly back to Chicago for the weekend.
By the time I arrived home to my family, I was trashed. I was a zombie. I was always thinking about work or getting to work. I could never enjoy being where I was because my mind was at work. This went on for almost a year and a half until the company we partnered with was purchased by another and we got out. I had had more than enough. It was clear to me that my life had been out of control. My wife and I moved our family out of the big city for a slower and quieter life.
Fortunately, traditional definitions of what it means to be a man are being questioned. Some of us have realized that we want to be involved with our families without sacrificing income or opportunity for advancement. Time has become the new currency in our lives, and we want more of it.
We’re tired of simply doing, reacting, and scrambling to stay ahead. We want and need to prioritize our own lives, and to define what a balanced life would be. We want to find out who we are as human beings instead of merely human doings. When we aren’t aware of who we are, we race through life with blinders on, reacting and doing, instead of acting and genuinely living. When we are being, we are fully awake, alive, aware, and in awe of all inside of us and around us. We are clear about our presence and what we’re after. Our energy, creativity, and vision emerges and we have fulfilling and more purposeful lives.
When I am being, here’s what I have found: I have a better understanding of myself, and am not as concerned with how others see me. I define myself by my own character, not by what I have or who my friends are. I’m more satisfied with my life and the people and situations in it. I am happier, more confident, and more relaxed. I have more meaningful relationships with people in my life. I have more time for what’s important to me.
My balanced life now looks like this: I am an entrepreneur and micro business owner. I operate as a micro-preneur out of a home office, and no longer work 80-100 hours a week. When I choose to travel, it is for pleasure. In my case, I often choose to visit my children at their colleges, one in New York, and one in Florida. I now have the time to eat dinner with my wife. When my kids are home, sometimes we go out for breakfast or watch a movie together.
This past Christmas, my son read the book Freakonomics which he really enjoyed, and we talked about it at length. I’ve set aside “me time”, and I choose to spend it reading, or sitting in on teleclasses. I have defined and created a well-balanced life and lifestyle.