In a survey last week, I asked some of you: “What’s the biggest thing you’re struggling with in your life right now?”
The second most common answer, behind only debt, took me by total surprise.
Then again, I’m not sure why it took me by surprise, because if I had really thought about it, it’s probably the biggest thing I’m struggling with right now, too!
The response was balance.
The open-ended answers took slightly different forms, but there was a clear trend. Here are some sample answers:
- “Balance: I am 26, recently married, 5 years into my job where I want to decide to either kick it up and push for a management role and a raise or become more domesticated and have kids, become a stay-at home mom, and work from home. We are buying our first home now too, so trying to determine where the mortgage payments will come from if I stay home is another big question mark.”
- “I am struggling with finding a healthy work/life balance. I want to work hard to achieve my career and financial goals, but I also do not want to look back in 10-20 years with regrets…It’s an everyday challenge.”
- “Balancing being in a relationship with working.”
- “…balancing all aspects of life while going to graduate school full time.”
- “Balancing working sixty hours a week to save for a down payment for a house and having a life.”
Looking at these answers and reflecting on my own life, I’m thinking…“DUH!”
To be honest, my life is NOT balanced. If I were a train, I’d be getting close to derailing.
Below, I’m going to share the challenges I’m facing with work-blogging-money-life balance, but I’m just one dude. We (myself and other readers) would love to hear about YOU. What are you juggling right now? How does it affect you? What are you doing to find balance?
My Current Balancing Act
My Day Job
Working for a small company and reporting directly to the owner, I stay quite busy, wear a lot of hats, and juggle a lot of projects—everything from developing our Web site, planning marketing campaigns, and following up on leads and making sales presentations.
To be honest, this is the first “day job” I’ve had that—after a year or so—I didn’t want to run from. I think that’s because I enjoy doing a variety of different things, I can immediately see the impact of my work, I really like the owner and my colleagues and—I think most importantly—I feel valued by them.
As long as I continue to do good work, I believe my company can provide me with a challenging, secure, and rewarding career for a long, long, long time. That’s a hard thing to find anywhere these days, but where I live—in Maine—my job is a diamond in the rough.
Money Under 30 started as a passion. Call me a nerd, but I love talking money. I love helping others get out of debt, simplify their finances, start investing, etc. I also love writing and building web sites.
And now, Money Under 30 has turned into a wildly profitable side business. Thanks to five years of well-trafficked articles and a few carefully-considered affiliates, my 2010 earnings from Money Under 30 reached six figures. 2011 looks to be even better. Last month, the site received almost 250,000 pageviews, and I’m busting ass to step up the value I deliver and win the trust of even more loyal readers.
Last on this list but first in my heart are my wife, Lauren, and 6-month old daughter, Molly.
Before becoming a dad, I was able to do a good job at work, manage the blog, and still get a lot of quality time with Lauren. Having Molly has changed that because:
- Parenting consumes most of the time I have with Lauren.
- I definitely want more time with Molly than I have.
As every parent knows, there’s no easy answer to finding more quality time with both your kid(s) and your spouse–we can’t manufacture more hours in the week. But I know this problem doesn’t just affect parents…if you’re super focused on school, work, paying off debt, or anything else, it can be hard to find time for friends, relationships, and yourself.
MY TYPICAL DAY AND WEEK
I wake up around 6:30, shower, have breakfast, and get Molly ready for day care.
I leave home at 8am, work, and get home at 7pm. Molly’s already asleep. I have a quick bite to eat with Lauren, before sitting down to work on Money Under 30—some nights just for an hour, some nights until the wee hours of the morning. After going to bed, I may get up at 3am to feed Molly before waking up at 6:30 to do it all again.
I am trying, at least, to keep weekends sacred. I usually only work for a few hours on Sunday nights. It’s the only time of the week I might get some exercise in or—God forbid—a couple hours of pleasure reading . But even our weekends are threatened by the growing list of chores and projects that come with owning a new home.
Why I Need Improve, And How I’m Going To Try
I recently said to Lauren:
“I know, for the time being, I can juggle working, blogging, being a husband and being a dad. My fear is that I won’t be able to do all of those things well.”
And then there are critical things that are blatantly nonexistent in my life:
- Eating well
- Just relaxing!
I’m still young and in good health, but I know I won’t stay that way with my current lifestyle.
When I started working on my finances and writing Money Under 30, I intentionally didn’t want to become one of those people so obsessed with earning money and growing his 401(k) that I let other passions in life slide. Today, I’m realizing I need to take a careful look at my life to see how much that may be happening, and perhaps try to reverse it.
TIME VS. MONEY
In the throes of paying off debt and righting my financial ship, my life was about earning more. The more I earned, the faster I broke free of debt and made up for lost time saving. But now that I’ve achieved my recent financial goals, I’m in the unfamiliar position of being OK on money and short on time.
Don’t get me wrong…being OK with money does not mean feeling rich. Although I’ve built my business and career in a way that has tripled my income in the last three years, I also spent much of that time paying off debt. And then I bought a house and had a baby. Since those big events, we’ve only just recently got our emergency fund where I want it (six months’ expenses) and still have saving to do for upcoming expenses like a car and home improvement projects.
In the game of striking a balance between earning money and growing your career, staying healthy, growing and enjoying relationships and family (and let’s not forget just enjoying life) you are fortunate if you reach the juncture in life when you might value additional free time more than additional money. I’m there, but I face some heavy decisions in the coming months about how to handle it.
I know I need to do a better job of balancing my time and life, the only question is how to get there.
MY COMMITMENT TO IMPROVE
Today, I’m making working on this balance a priority in my life, and because many of you indicated it’s the biggest struggle in your life right now, I’m going to work on this for US. I’m going to dive into time management techniques. Research time-value theories of money. And test strategies in my own life. Periodically, I’ll report back to you with what I hope will be valuable lessons.
In my own life, I’m going to start right now by making the time I need to change my life. That means:
- Prioritizing the important things that are absent in my life, like cooking healthy meals, exercising, and focused relaxation (i.e., not just vegging in front of the TV).
- Emphasizing the quality of what I do rather than the quantity of time I spend doing it (as discussed in my post “Better”).
- Focusing on the present. This is cliché only because it’s so true, and I’m terrible at it. When I’m doing one thing, I’m often thinking about doing something else. If I’m going to get my life in balance, this needs to stop.
What I’m NOT doing is radically change my life in any way at this time. Working and blogging are both activities I find rewarding, and both play an important role in my personal financial plan. My income is diversified in a way that provides better peace-of-mind than even my emergency fund. Should I lose one form of income, I can still go on living like nothing’s happened. And as long as that doesn’t happen, I can save like crazy.
Will I need a break at some point? Absolutely. Could I change my mind down the road? Perhaps. But for now, that’s my plan.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
What different things are you trying to balance right now?
How are you doing?
I know that at least for me, it’s really helpful to hear what challenges other people are facing balancing different areas of their lives. (I know for example, for many of you it’s not a new baby demanding a lot of your time but a busy social calendar, a new relationship, or graduate school.)
Please take a minute to share your story in a comment we can get a sense of what all of our crazy lives look like. What are you trying to balance right now? How are you managing it? What one thing could you do to improve your balance? Cut something out? Manage your time better? Ask for help? Be specific.
Your response will help others reading this post relate and, hopefully, start you on a track to a more balanced life…
I’ve done several personal posts recently that have only loosely related to personal finance. I hope you’ve enjoyed some of my stories and this different perspective, but if it’s not your thing, fear not: I’ve got some more hard-core money posts coming up.
In the next couple week’s we’ll look at the best brokers to invest with when you’re just starting out, the true value of credit card points/miles, how to buy houses at auction, and how to analyze your spending in Excel using data collected by Mint.com or other financial software. Don’t want to miss one of these topics? Take a second to subscribe. Thanks!
Photo credit: Beautiful Insanity Photography.