Chasing Paper: Real Talk on Work Life Balance

Chasing Paper

Hello folks! Hope all is well. It is time for some real talk on work life balance and what it means to me. Work life balance is a hot topic, especially for those about to enter the workforce or thinking of making a career switch. It’s something we all want, but the elephant in the room is that there are sacrifices no matter which way you slice it. Too much “work” and you are sacrificing health and wellness (mental and physical); too much “life” and you are sacrificing career progression and income.

It is a delicate balance and we all need to strive to find that balance that works best for each of us, individually. And not just in the short term, but keeping in mind our long term goals too.

It isn’t always easy. Sometimes work can spin out of control or you career progresses in ways unexpected which end up requiring a greater sacrifice. And you may not really know what you are signing up for when taking a job or choosing a career field.

It can be a struggle. That’s life. But before being skeptical or critical of work life balance, we need to envision the future to help us decide which sacrifice is worth making today. So it is time for some real talk on The Green Swan’s work life balance.

“There is no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.”

Jack Welch

My Balance

My work life balance was fairly comfortable when I started my career. I work in the financial industry and I am salaried. This usually equates to my employer expecting me to work overtime and not get paid for it (the customary time and half rate)! But my employment agreement said 40 hours per week and so that is what I took it to mean. I didn’t enjoy working extra hours, I wanted to get home in the evening and do things! I wanted to kick back and relax, watch TV, read a book, play video games, etc.

At work I took a full advantage of my lunch break, sometimes returning home for a quick bite and sometimes I would pack a lunch and read over my lunch break. Lunch was no time to work!

Looking back, I feel like a slacker. But this is how I operated for my first two years of employment. However, I would still say I was career oriented, I worked hard and performed very well during the 40 hours I did work, I just didn’t really care to do much beyond those 40 hours.

Shortly after those first couple years, I transitioned to a new position in a different department. Then the financial crisis happened and my perspective and value toward having employment shifted. That is also about the time I chose to go back to school to get my MBA. My work life balance began to shift. I was working around 50 hours a week consistently while also pursuing my MBA during the nights and weekends. Busy time indeed, but I knew the MBA was temporary and my work life balance would normalize eventually.

A couple promotions and a couple moves later and my work life balance continued to transition toward more work and less life. But I was becoming more and more ok with this. As I kept climbing the corporate ladder my pay kept climbing as well, helping to justify the increased work load and the more and more frequent late nights and weekends at work.

Therein lays the rub! I kept getting paid more, which helped pad the retirement accounts, which I eventually realized meant I could retire early, which meant the sacrifice I was paying for now could result in the ultimate payoff with a life of leisure by age 40.

“Much good work is lost for the lack of a little more.”

Edwards H. Harriman

A Real Life Example

So what does my current work life balance look like now? Well let me start by saying that I am a corporate banker, not an investment banker, but I occasionally I work like one. Most weeks it means 55 to 60 hours or work. It means I work the weekend once or twice a month. This provides a decent work life balance.

However, being a corporate banker also means when a large deal comes a long, for instance when we provide the financing for our customer to acquire another, it means I drop everything because there is a really tight timeline for a lot of work. I’m talking 90+ hours for two or more weeks in a row and entirely consuming weekends.

This leads to why I’m writing this article right now. I’m coming off the tail-end of one of these deals and I figured it is time to document how much strain this puts not only on myself, but my family.

The day after Thanksgiving weekend, a customer of mine let us know of a large potential acquisition it would like us to finance. And on 12/14, almost three weeks later, we’re still working hard and not sure if it will end up going through or not.

My week looked like this: long days and short nights; finishing up long diligence calls with the Company and rushing to quickly call my wife and kid to chat for two minutes before their bedtime; no time for exercise and barely seeing my family; takeout food for dinner and a whiskey or beer to wind down at night; multiple four hour conference calls with our customer and digging through over 600 research documents and presentations (thousands of pages).

Chasing Paper

And that’s just the carnage I caused myself! My wife was basically a single mother for a couple weeks: drop-off and pick-up duty at daycare, busy at work herself and managing dinner and bedtime with Jr, taking care of all household chores and trying to stay healthy and exercise herself. On top of all that, she had a four day work trip planned right in the middle of week 2 (Wed- Sat)! Busy busy!

It isn’t easy nor ideal as everyone’s stress levels are raised and by the end we are both completely worn out. For me, the first week is rough because of the lack of sleep and the fog I have to try to work through (hello fourth cup of coffee…) and by the end of week two and into week three is rough because of the deal fatigue that sets in and I just want it over with!

On the Wednesday of week 3 (12/14), we had a momentary pause in the deal as the customer and the company it is seeking to acquire are negotiating a few things. We are starting to slow down, although we know it could strike up again at any time depending on how the negotiations go. This worked ok timing wise though as Wednesday happened to be the day of volunteer activities at my work and I had my holiday party that evening.

Lucy and I march on though knowing temporary jams like this happen and hard work like this pays off. It now comes with the territory for me. In the midst of it all it can be hard to keep perspective, but we try to focus on the long-term knowing that these efforts are paving the way toward a comfortable early retirement.

“You can’t have a million-dollar dream with a minimum-wage work ethic.”

Stephen C. Hogan

How Does “Life” Factor into My Work Life Balance

I still manage to have a life. Like I said earlier, most weeks I work 55 to 60 hours, not the 80 to 90 I averaged in the example above. Those situations come around usually a handful of times a year. But they come and go and I don’t mind rolling up my sleeves every now and then. I’m busy, but not too busy. The worst part, honestly, is the spontaneity of these transactions and having no control or foresight over the timing. But when things slow down, “life” comes back into the picture!

“Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”

Unknown

Life outside of these events is normal. It’s family time with my wife and kid. It is trips to the park, weekend trips away, and hanging out with friends and family. It’s normal. It’s the calm between the storms. But if it weren’t for the storms, I wouldn’t have the money to more freely enjoy the calm nor the flexibility to eventually retire early. That’s the perspective I try to maintain! That’s why I keep chasing paper.

“There is no such thing as work-life balance – it is all life. The balance has to be within you.”

Sadhguru

Conclusion

I hope today’s post provides a glimpse into my work life balance, how it has evolved over time and context on why I’ve chosen to hustle today and be career oriented. It won’t always be this way though, it will pay off and the pendulum will swing back in favor of a more leisurely lifestyle eventually in early retirement. And I’m really looking forward to that day!

Are you about to enter the workforce or career change? What are your expectations for work life balance? Do you share any of the experiences I’ve outlined above? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Thanks for taking a look!

The Green Swan

 

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48 Comments

  1. Great job addressing the reality that our work-life balance, however we choose to live it, represents trade offs. A passionate FIRE enthusiast cannot realistically expect to “retire early” without a tilt toward work during the working years. This, to me, is a “long term” view of work-life balance.

    I’ve taken a mid-term approach, with 45-60 hour work weeks, and a modestly early retirement planned in June 2018 at Age 55.

    A refreshingly realistic article on the topic.

    1. Thanks, Fritz! I appreciate that! You make a good point that for much of the FIRE crowd, there is a bent toward “work”, side hustles or otherwise.

      Your mid term approach is probably a good equal balance of priorities. That was my initial goal early on, but my work position has evolved to more work than I would have expected. There’s always a trade-off!

  2. Thanks for sharing Mr Swan, I work 40-45 hours per week. Occasionally that will get bumped up if we have a project to close.

    Our company is really laid back, if you get your work done they don’t care how many hours it takes.

    80-90 is nuts! But it will be worth it!

    1. That’s a nice lifestyle which provides a realistic chance of a consistently balanced work /life situation. I hope to get back to that range someday. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I’ve spent much of the last decade with a heavy tilt towards work (60-80hrs a week). Times they are a changing though. With recently realizing I’m well beyond my goals financially, I’ve shifted more towards life. I took a higher paying job, but one thtpat I knew going into would be less hours then the management path I was on. I’m now closer to 40-50. It feels weird. After decades of work slant I almost feel like a slacker, and yet I enjoy the extra time with family and friends. With Time this will become the norm and that will pass. Not sure what I’ll do when it’s time for a new role that might be more heavily laden.

    1. That’s great! It’s nice to hear you’ve been able to transition to a lighter workload and still make solid money. That’ll be my ideal path in the coming years. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks for sharing JW! Such is the life of a banker I suppose, if there’s a deal to be done, you need to get ‘er done! I think you have a very healthy perspective on things. Bust your butt now and you can retire earlier later. I think that a lot of people don’t take the long term into consideration and only think about the hours they are working today.

    For me, I’ve taken a path similar to Fritz above. The hours aren’t too bad and I should be FI by 55. I’ve been able to spend lots of quality time with the kids as they’ve grown and I’ll be an empty-nester in a couple of years, so I don’t want to miss out on the few years I have left with them in the house.

    I’m actually curious to see if I’ll be more motivated to burn the proverbial midnight oil at the office once the kids are gone. We’ll see!

    1. That’s a great path, Jon! I hope to evolve to that so I too can spend quality years with the kiddos as they grow up. Such a joy and blessing, aren’t they!?

  5. Great post Green Swan!

    What I really like about this is that since you plan to to retire early, you can approach the “storms” as temporary. Those who think they have to work forever always feel trapped during these times. There’s almost an appreciative tone to the way you describe the 90 hour storms because in the end they help fuel the financial freedom fire.

    Most people complain about their 40 hour week saying they’re too busy. I admire your work ethic. Early retirement will be that much sweeter!

    Cheers,

    Andrew

    1. Thanks, I really appreciate that! Yes, ER will be sweet!

      You bring up a good point, I hadn’t really thought of it that way, but viewing them as temporary does make it easier to get through.

      Thanks for the great comment, Andrew!

  6. Hi Mr. Swan,

    The plus side is that you have some of the quiet time inbetween – and make the most of it, that is REALLY important in life! As others have said, if you want to hit FI early, and so want the salary, you have to be prepared to put in the hours – there is no shortcut.

    I am not in finance but I do find I also have a mix, right now I have a good balance – I usually do about 50 “official” hours, and probably another 5 – 10 “unofficial”. This can vary massively depending on what else is going on – at one point I was clocking 18 hours a day, 7 days a week for a number of months.

    It does put a strain on family and friendships when you effectively say “I am not available Monday to Friday, oh and we can arrange for the weekend but there is at least a 50% chance I will have to cancel”. The financial rewards for me are worth it though – I see the savings ticking up gradually (its been a very expensive couple of months), and the pay is now way above what I expected to reach so it is worth it

    Keep up the good work, and keep saving for that nice beach!
    FiL

    1. I think you nailed it with that comment and sounds like we’ve had similar stories regarding the balance. No shortcuts indeed, but paying dues can provide substantial benefits in the long term.

      18 hour days for months would be pretty unsustainable in my book, bit that’s great it paid off for you!

      You keep up the great work as well! Thanks FiL!

      1. Hi GS,

        Indeed – and I think a lot of people who say FI can’t be done are those who aren’t willing to make the sacrifices be it cutting down expenditure or putting in the long hours. I look back and it was definitely worth it career wise, and puts me in the position I am now in, so I can’t grumble at it!

        It was indeed hard work as I am sure for others who have commented on their long hours, however I was lucky to be able to do some of this home working as well so meant I could on occasions at least eat reasonably healthily 🙂

        Have a Great Christmas!
        FiL

        1. That’s right, can’t let apathy set in!

          Eating healthy during those long hours can be tough and require discipline. For me it’s about a 50/50 between unhealthy pizza / Chinese and better options.

          You have a merry Christmas as well! Thanks!

  7. Thanks for sharing. 55-60 hours per week is still a lot. Add in the commute and there is not much extra time left. How do you find time to blog? 🙂
    My old work hours are pretty similar to your. About 50-55 hours per week normally and it could ramp up to 90+ hours when it’s busy. That was fine when I was young, but it didn’t work when we had a kid.
    Great post and keep at it. I’m sure you’ll get there soon.

    1. That’s how I feel as well, much tougher with a kiddo!

      Working on the blog suffers quite a bit during stretches like that, no doubt. But I’ve managed a little backlog in posts to help get through since I know those busy times come occasionally. Time to rebuild the backlog… 🙂

      Thanks for the comment, Joe!

  8. Eesh, that sounds painful. My standard weeks are generally 45-55 hours, but my busy weeks rarely top 70. Doing a four day stretch with 5.5, 5, 3, and 5.5 hours of sleep would be brutal. Good luck on closing it out when and if it pops up again!

    1. I’m hopeful if it pops back up that it’ll be after the holidays… My flights back home start tomorrow!

      I’m one that needs a solid 8 hours to be functioning well, no doubt that stretch was very difficult for me. It feels like a zombie at some point. I guess it’s not bad prep for the sleep I’ll get with a baby on the way! 🙂

      Thanks for the comment, Matt!

  9. Well, I can only speak to my husband’s work hours, as I am currently a stay at home parent (or maybe I’m retired?! 🙂 ). He works 40-45 hours per week, so we have a ton of family time. It’s not always like that, as he has projects and on-call now and then, but most weeks are in that range. He also gets 6 weeks of paid time off, so we are very fortunate!

    1. Oh that’s nice! Family time is so important, that’s great it works out so well for you folks!

      Hard to measure the working hours of a stay at home parent… Are you ever off the clock?

      Thanks for the comment, Amanda!

  10. So interesting, thanks for sharing. I love this quote – “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”

    Work-life balance is the reason I needed the change last year. My job required a lot of overtime during our quarterly business plan, which meant I had to line up sitters in the evening because my husband traveled for work at least 3 days a week. So sitters on top of daycare/school during the day. It didn’t make sense for us. Hard to walk away from the salary + awesome benefits, but worth it for our family. 🙂

    Have a great week!

    1. Wow those are some tough circumstances! I’m sure it was very tough to make that decision despite it all, but kudos to you for having your priorities straight.

      Thanks for sharing, Kelsey!

  11. There was a point in my career life when I worked like you, putting work as the priority and fitting life around it. Unfortunately, my home life suffered, I missed time with my family, and I ended up divorced (not saying the work-life balance was responsible, but it didn’t help). With the wealth I was building effectively cut in half, I decided a more frugal life with less work sacrifice was the right path for me. Retired now and looking back on my two extremes, I regret working so many hours that I didn’t have enough balance. I think some of this is dependent on the individual, and I hope you are finding your own sense of balance. Just don’t let what’s most important slip away.

    1. Good advice there Gary, I totally hear you. Sometimes it can be hard to truly measure the sacrifices of a work life balance. I personally like to live the credo of everything in moderation. The long hours are definitely a struggle at times. Every now and again it’s time to sit back and truly measure and re-measure the pros and cons.

      I do think every individual is the same, but the majority of us are probably in the same boat. Again, thanks for the great comment and advice!

  12. I’ve contemplated spending a week or a month tracking my time to see how much extra time I put into teaching. But I’m a little bit scared to actually have to confront that number! Some days, I think work-life balance is such a fallacy or a myth. But then other days, I think it’s the most important thing any of us can strive for. This was so eyeopening! Glad you shared 🙂

    1. I bet many teachers are the same way. I’d be very curious to know how many hours you put in. I think in many professions, how many hours you put in correlated directly with performance career trajectory.

      Thanks, Penny.

      1. Totally agree with Penny here. With many teachers – there isn’t much of a balance during the school year. You can be “on” from 7:00 am until you turn your computer off when you go to bed. There is definitely a need to reflect on work-life balance and look at your life goals. And also to put “you” in front of others sometimes when you need a re-set of priorities.

        1. Great point on resetting priorities. Something we all need to do occasionally along with some quiet reflection.

          That can be a tough balance for teachers, no doubt!

          Thanks for the comment, Vicki.

  13. I’ve felt for a long time that there is no such thing as true work-life balance, if you’re working anything close to full-time hours. IT is a myth. What you’ve documented here is pretty crazy . . . you definitely deserve an early reprieve from the workforce. Posts like this do push me to try and work a little bit harder. My future income is at quite a cross-roads right now, and the one determining factor is me. I dislike my job, but it is the vehicle for our own, better life in the not-so-distant future. If you can survive hellish weeks like described above, I can find the energy to put in a few extra hours here and there. A little sacrifice now can provide us with more freedom once we semi-retire.

    1. I agree, it is sort of a myth. That’s just the reality of being in the workforce. All the more reason to try and reach FIRE, huh?!

      Glad I could help motivate you a bit. Burnout is a real thing though so we all have to do what works for us. I feel the same as you though, a little sacrifice now can pay off in the future.

      Thanks for the comment, Harmony!

  14. Work-life balance is one of the reasons I chose to stick it out with one company and put all my eggs in that basket. I figured that putting in the hours up front and building up a solid reputation and credibility, would then “earn” me some flexibility later in my career. As I’ve moved up at my company I’ve focused on the quality of the hours I put in at work, and have my weeks planned out as efficiently as possible, so I can make sure I leave enough time for family, etc…I work >40 hours per week still, but many of those extra hours are put in around my schedule. The role/responsibility I now have affords me that luxury, and not all positions allow that, but then again that’s why I put in my dues early on. I’m acutely aware of the fact that working crazy hours is not sustainable, and will almost always lead to burn out. Even with what I consider a normal work week as far as hours, the intensity of those hours is so high, that I still feel burnt out occasionally. That balance is a tricky beast!

    1. It is a tricky beast, well said!

      I think you laid out a great plan and it has certainly paid off. I’ve followed a similar path. The other benefit I’ve found with staying with one company is all the networking throughout the organization. Knowing a lot of contacts has allowed and will continue to allow mobility, especially with a good reputation for hard work.

      Thanks for the great comment, MYF!

  15. Your ‘normal’ work hours are still really high. Basically you’re working a full time job and a part time job as well. Plus being a husband and father and business owner and blogger? Sheesh, Swan – you’re a busy man!

    1. True, but that sounds more busy than I actually feel. I may have to try logging my hours for a week to see how it all fits in! 🙂

      Thanks for the comment, Ty.

  16. I gotta admit that I am envious of your time management skills. You write a popular blog, have a 2nd child on the way and work 60 hour weeks. You are machine.

    One of the perks to working for the government is I normally don’t have to work more than 40 hours in a week. For me this suits well for me and my family. But I do from time to time dream about pursuing something that I’m more passionate about that involves more hours. I guess we’ll see what the future holds.

    Thanks for sharing!!!

    1. Haha I’m definitely not a machine! 🙂

      Efficiency is the key to me. I always try to find ways to get things done quickly and efficiently. That includes my morning routine to things in my day job and in the evenings. And in sure there are still things I’m not doing to be as efficient as possible, but that’s why I keep working at it.

      Thanks for the comment, MSM!

  17. Oh man, I don’t miss the 90 hour work weeks! I started my career as a CPA auditing public and privately held companies. During the worst weeks of busy season (January through early April) I would work numerous 90+ hour weeks. I basically woke up, worked, slept, and did it all over again the next day. I even dreamed about work during this time. I couldn’t get away from it! I don’t miss those days but I recognize that putting in a lot of hours early in my career got me to where I am today – a relatively young executive at a financial services company. I would never have gotten this position had I not slaved away in my early years.

    To me, it’s worth it to put in long hours early in your career when you’re young, have the energy, and don’t have a lot of responsibility yet. It will be worth it down the road!

    1. I think that’s a great point, it all goes back to how important it is to pay dues in some lines of business. Doing that hard work and doing it well can certainly pay off in spades later.

      From things I’ve heard from others before, those entry level public accounting positions are rough! Good for you for getting through those tough busy seasons and getting value out of all that hard work.

      And the dreams made me chuckle. I’ve had plenty of work dreams…I think that’s a sign of working a bit too much for a bit too long! 🙂

      Thanks for the great comment!

  18. Wow, that is a crazy schedule. I have long workdays sometimes but not 2.5 weeks in a row. Ever. But I’m sure it helps to have that seven-figure nest egg and the knowledge that this work schedule will end much earlier than age 67. Great read as always!

    1. Yes definitely! I couldn’t imagine that sort of schedule lasting until traditional retirement! But that’s the case for some co-workers…

      Thanks for the comment, ERN.

  19. Hey GS, what a busy few weeks it has been! But I agree that sometimes in life we are busy and its fine as long as it doesn’t happen everyday. Its also through these moments that we start to appreciate our free time. You can’t live life at the same pace everyday, you need to mix it up to really appreciate it!

    Of course, “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”

  20. Ha, 90h weeks, I haven’t done that a while and I don’t miss it!
    I probably average around 50h workweeks since I joined this huge corporation (100,000+ employees) and I haven’t worked a single week-end in 7 years. It was much more common working for smaller ones (5000 or less).
    Hopefully this isn’t too often that you have to go through this, but as long as it’s worth it, I guess it’s one step closer to FI.
    Happy holidays!

    1. Sounds like a nice gig, Nick!

      No it’s not too often, just a handful a year I suppose. I can deal with it fine right now but it helps knowing FI is getting fueled by it.

      Thanks for the comment!

  21. Wow, with all the hours you work and having a little one at home…how do you manage to post on your blog so consistently?! I have a government job so I work 9-5, however I have a long commute (over an hour each way). Add into that drop off and pick up of baby#2…it feels like a long day. It’s basically wake up, drop off kid, drive to work, work, drive to pick up, drive home, help with dinner/play with kids, eat, bath time/bed time. I’ve really struggled with having enough time especially now with 2 little ones. Have more time and flexibility is the #1 reason why I crave FI.

    1. Yeah it can be some long weeknights and weekends. And I’m sure it’ll be quite and adjustment when kid #2 arrives as well. Something may have to give but we’ll see when the time comes. Family is definitely a top priority though! Likewise, family is the reason I want to reach FI asap!

      Thanks for the comment, Andrew!

  22. Those are some pretty gruesome hours you’re working there. Personally, I was a salaried employee until recently with the new (unsure if it’s going to be) laws regarding overtime. We just recently switched back to non-exempt for my role which means I get paid for overtime, but that still doesn’t motivate me enough to want to work it.

    1. That’s a similar mindset I had earlier on and it’s funny how my positron slowly evolved to more hours… Definitely not intended. But I do like having FIRE in sight so will continue on as long as I can.

      Thanks for the comment, Latoya!

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