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What I discovered on my quest for work-life balance

I’m in the upstairs bathroom writing notes on my iPhone when it strikes me—the apparent irony of me sketching out notes for a blog post about work-life balance while in the middle of giving my daughters a bath. I left work hours ago but had hardly left my work behind me. And in that moment I felt so close to the many business owners that come to us seeking to improve the balance between their work and their personal lives. Creating work-life balance is a difficult task, but it’s also a rather poorly-defined term. What does that balance really look like? If “balance” means an equitable distribution of hours, is that what everyone really wants?

Like many of you, I’ve heard about work-life balance for most of my professional career and it’s come to have a number of meanings to me over those years. Now, as CEO of EMyth, I try to find ways to create standards that promote the right balance for our staff: reminders to take vacation, to stay home when they’re feeling sick, to take care of themselves. But it’s always particularly challenging for the person leading the company to create that “balance.” Rationales easily float into your head and wage battle against the boundaries you set for yourself. I’m the buck-stops-here guy… That’s just part of being CEO… It’s only temporary—once we get that _______ position filled, I won’t have to come in on weekends anymore... Work-life balance starts to feel like an unreachable destination to which only a privileged few hold the “secret map.”

We like to say that a business is a reflection of its owner. That the tone and examples set at the top of the organization are what manifest throughout its culture. And because of that, I know I have to be aware of—and intentional about—my relationship to my work. Without consistently working on that for myself, I couldn’t expect to see the benefits cascade throughout our team. Should the CEO be the first one in the door and the last one to leave? Maybe. But what does that actually show that you value as a culture? Raw hours spent in the office. Is that what actually creates value in your organization?

I have been working at this for some time now and it’s completely changed the way I relate to my work. I’ve placed priority on what I can do to drive the most value for the company. I’m delegating or putting off the rest. I’m also prioritizing things that are important for me, like being home with my family for dinner. And if that means I spend a couple hours at home writing or answering emails, that’s OK with me. Our company knows that work-life balance is a personal discovery. And that it looks different for everyone—which is exactly why very early in our work with a business owner we’ll help them uncover just that: what is most important to them in their life. Because if your business isn’t working to make your life better…and if your life is not driving toward what’s most important to you…then what’s it all for? Just to make it through another month?

When your life and your work are aligned to serve a common purpose, it stops mattering whether you are working 40 or 50 or 30 hours a week. You’re working as much as is needed to accomplish your goals. That will look different for everybody. And that’s the only “secret map” you’ll ever need.

Martin Kamenski

Written by Martin Kamenski

Martin is a CPA and former business owner whose passion for small business began with childhood memories of Al’s Carpet Cleaning—his grandfather’s business. Martin writes about leadership, strategy, finance, and entrepreneurship.