Back when I was in college and deciding on my profession, I thought management consulting was a perfect fit. I thought I might enjoy it enough to be a lifer, but even if I didn’t, I thought it would jumpstart my career into whatever profession I may one day want. All I had to do was bust my ass in my 20s. “Who cares?” I thought. I’m young, I don’t have kids or any real responsibility. Might as well put in my hard working hours now. Shortly after becoming a consultant, however, probably while I was sitting alone in some shitty hotel outside of Cincinnati or in bumblefuck Pennsylvania or wherever I was at the time I thought, “this is stupid.” I’m young. I don’t have any kids or any real responsibility. Why am I spending my evenings working alone in this shitty hotel? Why am I not part of a kickball league or playing bar trivia or doing some other activity coupled with drinking as is customary for 20 somethings in Chicago? Why had I been so quick to completely discount all the other aspects of my life besides work? These are valuable years I will never get back, and I’m spending them working and often alone.
So I was and still am not ready for the parenthood domain of my life to come into play. But how could I neglect friendship, love, community, adventure? All things incredibly important to me that I was willing to completely set aside until some unknown future date. All critical components of who I am as a person that I indirectly said to myself “these are not a priority right now.” Why was I so okay with being an incomplete version of myself? Why had I even convinced myself that this was the “right” and “responsible” thing to do?
I will always have an internal struggle between wanting to be financially responsible (or just to have money in general) and wanting to be a carefree adventurer. I want to travel the Earth and learn all about people, but I also want a fatty 401k and a respectable home. I want to enjoy a nice long breakfast every morning instead of hustling to an office, but I also want some expensive ass boots. There are a million and one events I want to take part in with my friends, but I also want to be a top performer at work and climb the ranks. Life is full of struggles like this, and so compromise will always need to exist. You as a person are always evolving and so emphasis on a certain domain of your life over another is natural, and those shifts must occur based on what is most important to you at that time. But shifting all of your being into one domain is never the answer.
Have you ever been in one of those relationships where you completely lose yourself in it or know someone who has? Like that person becomes your world, and you find yourself caring about what they care about more than what you care about. You sacrifice your friendships, you put your work and even your family second to that person. When you look back on that time in your life you realize how blind you were and how unhealthy it was to shit all over the other domains in your life besides “love”. Anyone can identify this as unhealthy behavior, so we need to stop applauding it when the dominant domain is work.
Life is about balance. Life is about you being greater than the sum of all your parts. When you are in a great relationship, you are more empowered at work. When you are in a job you love, you are able to provide your best self to your partner. We have created an expectation for ourselves and what we must achieve that makes this balance nearly unattainable. So we need to say fuck it to those expectations. We need to sit back and set our own expectations based on the critical domains in our own life and find a way to sit squarely in the middle of them. We need to be self-aware enough to realize when we are letting one domain cannibalize the others. And we need to be conscious of the fact that there is no “right”. Each person is free to determine the domains they care about and the healthy size of each at any given point in their life. Once this is achieved, the internal struggle will not be so much of a struggle anymore. Instead you will happily give and take time and attention among your chosen domains because you are in control of them, and it is the combination of all of them that makes you you.
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