Commentary: Staying on the Beam For Once, The Benefits of Balance

by Caleb Frostman, Executive Director, Door County Economic Development Corporation

Since entering the workforce full-time 11 years ago, I’ve heard a lot, and learned a little, about work-life balance. I’ve scrolled past plenty of LinkedIn headlines about how important it is to prioritize your well-being, your sleep, your family, and your vacations, often at the expense of workplace expectations. I’ve also heard countless quips about how real dedication is being in the office before daybreak and staying long after the sun is gone, burning the proverbial midnight oil. Not surprisingly, I’ve most often found myself in the middle, swinging to either end of the spectrum from time to time, whether that was in banking, full-time college internships, or my current role at the Door County Economic Development Corporation.

Speaking of burning the midnight oil, there were certainly pluses and minuses to working in Corporate America for nearly a decade, but some of the greatest treasures I received were pricelessly awful quotes worn by their speakers as badges of workaholic honor that will live with me forever.

In a resigned, who’s-in-earshot-to-hear-this? tone:  “Man, I was here late last night – I don’t know why I didn’t just sleep in my office.” Or, smugly to an intern who did not need to know and was certainly not impressed:  “If you need me over the next two weeks, I’ll be on vacation in Honduras. Yeah, I know it’s December 15th, but I haven’t taken any vacation yet this year and my boss is making me. I know, I know. I’d rather be here working, but gotta listen to the boss!” Or one of my favorites, to no one in particular:  “Looks like I’ll be working late tonight…for once!” And a little louder with more sarcasm after no reaction from the peanut gallery, “for once!” And again for good measure, “for once!” We get it, dude! You’re working late. And this isn’t just “for once.” You work late often, which is why the “for once” was supposed to be funny the first of three times you said it.

Just for fun, other non-workload-related favorites included:  “U.S. Bank took the first bite of the apple, but Wells Fargo is choking on the core.” Uh, what?! And, dramatically, “If I have to take the double-barreled shotgun approach to this meeting and fire both barrels, so be it.” I have more. And they’re all that bad. 

I digress.

There are days I miss the camaraderie and absurdity of life in the cube farm. However, most times I’m grateful not to have to bear witness to the blatant groveling and ladder-climbing schemes that are not nearly as subtle as the would-be climbers think they are. Not like the ‘b’ in subtle, which is actually quite subtle.

In mocking these cringe-worthy workplace and workload quotes, don’t get me wrong – there is obvious value in hard work. And very few people or companies accomplish much of substance without significant self-sacrifice and more than a few nights and weekends mixed in along the way. But I’ve found it to be true that (in my best Jack Nicholson voice) all work and no play makes for a less productive worker, less pleasant, less present friend or family member, and less effective, less involved community member.

Most people long for that perfect mix of work and home life where we show up to work energized and ready to contribute to the company’s mission and bottom line, leave work energized and ready to change our communities for the better, and come home energized and ready to change the laundry around. I mean, dinner’s not going to microwave itself, am I right?

The periods in my life when I have come closest to striking that perfect balance when I’m contributing at work, in my community, and among my friends and family have some things in common:  I’m exercising regularly, getting enough sleep (as I get older, these first two are very closely related), involved in a few meaningful community endeavors for which I have enough time to do more than just show up and be present at meetings, actively pursue a select few hobbies, spend time with friends and family, leave in some mindless downtime for reading and laughing at old episodes of The Office, and I’m involved in some sort of spiritual practice.

Ideally, I have found it best to find a few activities that check multiple boxes. For example, trudging through vast wetlands with a decoy bag on my back while duck hunting counts as serious exercise, a form of meditation, allows for periods of mindlessness, and is a great way to socialize with friends and family. The same can be said for beekeeping, going for a family bike ride, or volunteering at a community event. With that kind of outside-of-work life, I can show up to my job happy, healthy, and ready to contribute to the team.

Similarly, I am an improved version of myself and can thus show up better for my friends, family, hobbies, and my community when I’ve had a productive day or week at work, which often includes periods of grinding long and hard to ensure the company’s or team’s objectives are met. Work product or volume can’t make up the whole of my identity or perceived self-worth, but they are certainly significant elements in the mix.

I wouldn’t dare try to write a work-life balance prescription for anyone else, and I don’t know if true balance is actually attainable or maintainable, but striving for it and reallocating my resources of time and energy along the way impact my ability to show up as my best version at work, at home, and in my community.

And due to my immense workload, it looks like I was late turning in my column for once! …For once! … For once!

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