Like me, Jake is married with two children. Unlike me, he never served in the military. Instead, he went and worked in the oil and gas industry for a few years after college and before deciding that a formal business education was the best next step in his career. We met during recruiting last summer and have been pretty close since then.
Jake is also a project team leader at the consulting firm for which we both work and has been a ‘top block’ guy from a performance standpoint since he started with the firm. What I like most about Jake isn’t that he’s been successful from a company point of view (though he’s achieved a level of success that I too would like to achieve), but that he’s been just as successful on the home front as well (our wives are also friends). And if you talk to Jake, he’d tell you that his priorities fall out in the exact opposite order in which I just listed them.
Although I’ve been back at the firm full-time for over a month now, we hadn’t had the opportunity to catch up in person until this past Friday. He asked me how things were going, and I explained to him that I had been immediately staffed on a project which has me going primarily to Chicago, but also to Houston on occasion. (That means that I’m taking the 7:25am flight out every Monday morning to either Chicago or Houston, and arriving back at home around 9 or 10pm every Thursday night. Friday, of course, is also a work day, though I spend it in the local office). Overall, I tell him, I’m working hard but that things are going well. We start talking about our families, and I explain to him that I haven’t quite settled into a routine yet in terms of balancing work demands with those of an engaged husband and father. I wasn’t looking for any sympathy, or advice for that matter, and fully expected Jake to say something to the effect of, “…yeah, it just takes time.” So I was a bit surprised when he actually offered some guidance. “Turn off your (work issued) cell phone and don’t look at it until Sunday night.” I commented that I’d have to give it a try, but more or less filed it away alongside all of the other John Maxwell-esque type guidance I’ve come across in my day.
On my drive home that day, however, I started thinking more about Jake’s advice. Having been on my current team for four weeks now, I can count on one hand (maybe two) the number of emails that have been sent out on a Saturday or Sunday. So my immediate thought was that maybe Jake’s advice was more relevant for people who were on “burner projects” that required round-the-clock work hours. Not to mention, it struck me as a fairly irresponsible thing for an early tenured consultant to do. I learned very early on in my plebe year at West Point that the key to success when you’re just starting out is to swim with, not against, the current. If something came up that required my attention, I should make sure that I was prepared to react, not get to it when I decided to get to it.
As I pulled up to my house, I saw my son and his friend playing basketball in our driveway. I grabbed my work cell phone from its location in my car’s cup holder, checked my email one last time, and pressed the power button until it powered off. I thought to myself, what the hell. I would give it a try this weekend and see how it goes.
So here we are on Sunday night. The world is still standing and I still have a job. More importantly, unplugging enabled me to focus 100% on being present with my family. I’m pretty sure that it also contributed to my decreased stress levels. Not surprisingly, we had a great weekend. And although I’m flying out yet again tomorrow morning, I feel less guilty about it.
My phone is now powered on and while there are a few emails in my work account, none of them are critical. Oddly, it was a subtle reminder that while my responsibility set as a consultant is still very real, it is nowhere near as vital as the one I had as an Army officer. Maybe it was that realization that I had hitherto failed to make. Or perhaps it was that work-life balance is simply a series of tradeoffs. Nevertheless, plugging back in on Sunday night, as opposed to every 10-15 minutes throughout the weekend when I would normally check my phone, feels like a much better and more sustainable way to do things. I’m pretty sure my wife and kids would agree.- Rob C., guest blogger