Striking a work-life balance is a delicate art, but it is a necessary one. While we ought to push for our dreams, we should not do so at the expense of the other aspects of life. I’ll demonstrate my point with this short and real story.

Jason slowly pulled his cabinet drawer open, reached in, and sighed as the bottle of “calming pills” flashed before my eyes.

“Take as needed,” he joked.

I have heard of stressed out people taking drastic measures before, but this surprised me. The bottle bore witness to a confession he made in response to my nonchalant remark, “Man, you look stressed out. Just take a chill pill”

“Believe me. I do,” he said.

Of course, I did not believe him. I could not imagine it. Not until he provided the evidence.

“Are you serious?”

“Yep! I take two of these before I talk to them. They’re really riding me hard,” he resigned. His matter-of-fact tone was deafening.

Jason has been working with a demanding customer who repeatedly rejects all his attempts to close requirements on a big project. Mounting pressures from all sides created an atmosphere of fear and coercion – job safety and an attitude to just get the work done.

I visited Jason every other week. He was visibly more stressed out each time I saw him. At times, you can see him visibly shaking as he talked.

“Take some time off, man. Go on a hike. Soak in a hot tub. This is crazy!”

“Yeah, I know…” he groaned; this was not the first time someone offered that advice.

“Well, if you want to take a break and have some coffee or something, just let me know,” I said, shaking my head and sighing. We nodded heads as though acknowledging the futility of the situation.

That encounter bothered me tremendously. I came home full of thoughts. That night I researched ways to manage stress and compiled a list to give to Jason the next morning. I was quite pleased with myself.

Unfortunately, Jason never came to work. The night after our conversation, he suffered a heart attack and passed away.

I was devastated.

A time for reflection

Jason was not the beacon of health. He drank and smoked. And approaching his fifties, he could have made better dietary choices, worked out more, and eased up on other stressors outside of work.

My point is that work was not the only culprit in his sudden death, but it was certainly a major factor. I truly believe that work became the proverbial straw that broke his back.

Up to that point, my career was a self-imposed scramble to the top, fueled by unrelenting ambition and drive. I worked unpaid weekends and sought out opportunities beyond my mandatory work to add to my resume.

But I handled the stress like a champion. I was young and full of enthusiasm for the boundless possibilities before me. Perhaps, I can even say that I was reckless with my health.

Jason’s death derailed my singular focus. I reexamined my life, which came down to 90% work and 10% life. With that honest assessment, I saw my life heading towards a precipitous cliff. I had to make a change.

A month later, I told my mentor I wanted to slow down to reestablish a work-life balance. I’ll never forget her candid response, “I’m glad you came to your senses.”

Striking a work-life balance

The goal of this story is not to deter ambition nor is it an admonition against working too hard. After all, hard work, ambition, and enthusiasm will bear the fruit of success.

The point is… that success has a price. Maybe that price is time or the lack thereof. Or maybe the sacrifice you must make is your social life. Maybe it is both. Sometimes, the price is your health. It comes down to how much of a sacrifice you willingly make.

If you take away only one thing from this story, it is that work is a part of life. Part.

However, I’d like to offer that professional success could be won while maintaining a healthy balance with other aspects of life. To do so, you have to define all the important elements that provide you with happiness. Then allocate time and resources to each aspect. You might not reach the top as quickly, but you might not lose your mind either.

If you take away only one thing from this story, it is that work is a part of life. Part.

So, don’t forget to stop and admire the views as you climb the mountain. Take your time. It might feel like a race and the ultimate prize is at the top; but perhaps if survey the land, you might realize that you never wanted to climb that mountain at all. Perhaps you will realize that the cabin overlooking the sea on a divergent path is where you needed to go.

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