by David B. Bohl
I’ve recently been asked by my coach and several coaching clients the question: “What could someone have said to you when you were working 80+ hour weeks, and enjoying every minute of them, to convince you that there was a way to live a more balanced life?”
To answer this question, I’ve had to take a stroll down memory lane. I don’t hide my past. It’s part of me, and I gladly share it with anyone who might relate to the path I traveled to become the family-always-comes-first, home-office solopreneur that I am today.
If you’ll indulge me, I’ll share my brief tale of finding balance in my life.
I instantly turned into a materialist right out of college, when I packed my 1978 Honda Civic with my worldly belongings and drove from Tampa to Chicago in search of a job at the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the purest bastion of capitalism I had ever witnessed.
I landed a job as a Runner, literally running order tickets from desks on the trading floor’s perimeter to the “pits” where brokers and traders transacted business in what was termed the “open-outcry market.” To an outsider it appears to be absolute chaos, but it was pure heaven to me. I proceeded to throw myself into my work and, before I took the time to consider what was happening, I had turned into a prisoner of success. As the ghost of Jacob Marley said in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” That chain was forged from the very beginning in my working life.
That first job led my to a couple of business partners, both of whom shared my desire to start our own trading firm. We did so, and proceeded to become financially successful beyond our wildest dreams. By the time I was 30 years old, I was on top of the world. I had everything I ever wanted (so I thought). But that wasn’t enough. Instead of reveling in the joy of a life in balance, I had bought into a seemingly impossible mandate – a relentless drive to get further in life at almost any cost.
At the age of 32, instead of recognizing that I had become an absentee husband and father because of all the hours I was working trading and managing the firm that had grown to over 150 people, my partners and I decided to sell ourselves to a global investment bank so that we could get bigger and make more money. This meant that I’d commute from Chicago to New York every Sunday and return home to my family late Friday evening very much resembling a Zombie – not knowing exactly where I was, and not being able to give anything of myself because my mind was always on work.
After two years of pure hell – physical, mental, and emotional – I had had enough. Thankfully, I had an opportunity to free myself of my employment contract and I got out, barely escaping alive. My wife and I packed up our kids and headed for a quieter life in southeastern Wisconsin, where I began to pursue a more enjoyable and rewarding life.
My kids were young then, but I truly regretted the time I had lost and knew that I could never recapture. I’ve since devoted myself to doing what is most important to me – spending time with my family. I’ve seen my kids grow up. I’ve had breakfast with them before school and greeted them after. We’ve had dinners as a family and enjoyed supporting one another as each pursued their interests, whether they were sports, music, theater, or friends.
So, what’s my answer to the question: “What could someone have said to you to convince you that there was a way to live a more balanced life?” My answer is “Absolutely nothing.” I was on top of the world. I didn’t need anything or anybody, let alone any advice. I wasn’t looking for life balance. The term wasn’t even a part of my vocabulary. It didn’t work when my wife suggested to me that I was living an insane life. Why would I listen to someone else?
So how did someone like me come to know that there was a better way to live? I had to feel the pain – real pain. I had to stop running around with blinders on and think, and I mean really consider, what was going on in my life. I needed to do the heavy lifting and ask myself: “Am I Truly Happy? Is This What I Want?” Once I did that, there was no way that I could answer in any other way but “NO!”