In September of 2011 I was on the tarmac at SeaTac gazing out the window in preparation for a flight to Holland following the birth of our first child. Before Naomi was born I had been traveling to the Netherlands for work 6 to 10 times a year. I looked forward to the flights, which gave me time to quietly read, watch movies, and zone out. But this trip was different—fear and guilt gnawed at my conscience as tears welled in my eyes.
For seven years I had been traveling extensively for work as a consultant and trainer. I spent time in New York, LA, Amsterdam, and other cities scattered across the United States. Thankfully, the tether between my wife and I grew stronger in our time apart, but the birth of my child brought an unfamiliar feeling—I could not bear the thought of being absent now.
I stared at the line of planes, imaging all of the parents leaving their families—military personnel, salespeople, engineers, missionaries, musicians, athletes, adventurers, and countless others—every one of us with a story to tell about where we were going and what we leave behind. I made a choice in that moment—no more traveling until I can find some balance between work life and home life.
Two weeks ago Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld printed an article in the New York Times exposing the intensely competitive work culture at Amazon. While the emphasis of this article is on the demanding work culture at Amazon, I read a more universal struggle between the lines. The story reminded me of the dialectic I faced that day on the tarmac: can I succeed in my career without succumbing to pressures at home?
After reading the article I was enticed by the notion that I can have the best of both worlds—a successful career and a satisfying personal life—by pooling my resources and changing my outlook.
Amazon is not the only workplace jungle in 2015. Many of us struggle to manage stress, anxiety, and depression as we confront the endless demands of work and family life. Unreasonable expectations reduce some of us to tears while others find the same experiences stimulating and even inspirational.
It took nearly two and a half years for me to fully transition from traveling for work. After being off the road for a couple of months my relationships with my partner and kids became increasingly tense. I was quick to anger and found myself spiraling into a period of depression. My wife and I needed help regaining a sense of balance because our homeostasis was shifting.
We had to accommodate changing priorities. We needed one another to fill in the gaps between work, exercise, childcare, meals, school, and downtime. We had to be creative, collaborative, patient, driven, thoughtful, and calculated to make it all work. These same characteristics are found in a successful, high-intensity workplace.
The NYT article also points out criticism, competitiveness, undercutting, and confrontation as contributors to a negative work environment. As my wife and I needed time for ourselves, time with the kids, time to work, time to create, and time to relax, our marriage began to feel like that negative work environment.
For us to be successful, both as a family and professionally, we needed the same collaboration and support you find in a successful workplace. Those who succeed in corporate culture excel at prioritizing goals and not taking things personally. Keeping this in mind, we sought a couple’s counselor to help us prioritize family and cooperate more effectively. Therapy asked us to find ways to grow closer and stronger from our struggles rather than letting them tear us apart.
When I stared at the line of planes on the tarmac back in 2011, I knew something had to change to sustain success. I continue today to make changes that bring me closer to my family and closer to my own definition of personal success. Every part of my life still feels like a work in progress as my family constantly adapts and adjusts together. Some days I feel intensely judgmental and full of blame while other days I am full of gratitude and grace. Perhaps what changes most from day to day is my perception.