How businessman-turned-marriage-author/blogger enforced work-life balance principles in own life and that of his employees
WORDS // Jerry McColgin
One of the most important lessons I’ve come to learn over the course of my career in corporate America, and then as a business owner, is the need for balance. Success, for a pioneer, requires an exceptional level of drive, focus, and goal-orientedness. When taken too far, these necessary qualities can translate into single-minded thinking because of the tremendous amount of effort it takes to create something from nothing. Pursuing goals in a half-hearted manner will never succeed. But an important question to ask yourself is: at what cost?
It is so easy to become obsessed with “the crisis of the day,” be it a launch date that’s falling behind or an unexpected obstacle that has arisen. These events consume our time and attention. I justify my obsessive focus by telling myself if I don’t deal with this now, my world and my business will fall apart.
As I take a step back, I realize there are many facets of my life that are important to me. My faith, my marriage and family are all more significant than any project or business that I can work on. Yet, they are the very things that get compromised when I get obsessed with work.
As a Christian, God’s priorities should be my priorities. Is He more concerned with me hitting a deadline, or in me honoring my wife? More concerned with a sales forecast or counseling my son in a time of need?
I think back to a time when I was running a global, mega-project for my company. I was directly responsible for an investment of $80 million and the oversight of 40 employees. We were charged with designing a new platform of products and building green-field factories in which to manufacture them. There was tremendous pressure on my team and I to succeed. But I was determined to not only show work-life balance in my own life but to insist on it for my employees as well.
One day, my design engineering manager approached me to discuss his plans for the year. I was very pleased with his level of enthusiasm and aggressiveness; his goals were on target to help the team succeed. Knowing that he would have considerable global travel and would be away from his family for weeks at a time, I asked him about his plans for vacation that year. He looked at me like I was crazy. “I couldn’t possibly take vacation this year,” he replied. “In fact, I haven’t taken a vacation in the last three years,” he said proudly.
I looked him straight in the eye and told him that I expected him to take a two-week vacation. I went on to explain that if I found him calling or emailing his engineers during this time, that he would have to answer to me for the infraction. This led to quite a debate and much expressed concern on his part. But ultimately, he took the vacation. The project stayed on track, and he drew closer to his wife and children.
I’ve remained friends with this man for twenty years since. It’s funny because every year he continues to take a vacation. He’s an executive now at a large company, and he insists on the same for his employees. He is now a huge advocate of work-life balance.
There will no doubt be seasons where work will occupy more time and attention than others. I am currently in the process of launching a non-profit marriage ministry. As with any new endeavor, it wants to monopolize my time. The key is to endure these seasons, then put extra attention back on the other aspects of our life. Being in balance every hour of every day is unnecessary. But looking back over a year, it’s important to see that efforts were placed where they truly mattered.
One practical way that I personally make this a focus is in managing my time during the holidays. I shut down from work between Christmas and New Year’s. Some years, this has caused stress with my business partners or even clients, but I hold this family time as sacred. It’s a time where I choose to do all the cooking and clean-up for my wife, giving her a much-needed break. It’s a time when we go see movies and play games with the kids. We take our minister and his wife out for a nice dinner to show our appreciation. Most importantly, it’s a time when I don’t check emails or phone messages from work. By the time the new year rolls around, the love tanks of everyone in the family have been satiated and we’re all ready to get back at it. That is almost always our favorite week of the year.
If you have a driven, pioneering spirit, recognize that God has wired you that way and it is a blessing. But He also made you for so much more than that. Resist the temptation to become so focused on one part of your life that you compromise the other areas. Remember that Jesus was a pioneer. In three years, He started a global movement of faith that has endured over 2000 years. But He took time off from his busy schedule for prayer and for rest and recuperation with those closest to Him. Be realistic. You can’t out-achieve Jesus. His may be just the example you need to follow.
Jerry McColgin is author of “Rules of Engagement: The Shocking Marriage Series.” You can follow him on his blog at shockingmarriage.com