Over the years I have noticed those who just seemed to be more successful in their careers and happier than most others. To be honest, I was rather envious. After some digging, I discovered they all had the same thing in common: balance.
To have a successful life and career, you need to have balance. More specifically, the three things needed to be in balance are career, family, and self. When any one of these areas tilts the scales, another area suffers. The successful people re-balance the scales at their first opportunity.
Let’s discuss these three areas first and then talk about the balancing act, beginning with career. As Airmen we have been charged with being technically ready at all times. It is up to us to learn our primary duties to the expert level and master any additional duties we may have. Also, we need to monitor our careers and do the things we need to advance like Professional Military Education, core task qualifications, etc. We also need to seek opportunities to grow and go after jobs that will challenge us and make us better Airmen today and in the future. Not to mention, one day we will take this uniform off; what then? We need to be doing things now to set us for a future career and a better life with our families.
Family is however you define it. For most, it is a spouse and children. There are many who define family as their parents and siblings or even their close friends. Some look to their pets as their family. You are the one who defines what family means to you. We need to invest in our family. They are what’s going to be there after we separate from the service.
Last, but not least, is ourselves. We need to take the time to do the things we enjoy. We need to oil the machine and take care of our health, fitness, spirituality, and personal development. This is our “me” time and it is often the first thing we sacrifice for the career or the family. However, if we are not taking care of ourselves, how can we possibly care for others?
This concept really hit me hard when I left for Noncommissioned Officer Academy shortly after my daughter was born. It was only six weeks, but I missed her more than I could imagine. When I came home, I was determined to make the most out of every minute we had together. I wanted her to always know daddy loves her and never wonder where she stood in my life. About a year later, I left for a 6-month deployment and it was difficult, but I had no regrets of whether I spent enough time with her or not. My little princess knew her daddy loved her.
It is very rare to have all three areas in perfect harmony at any one given time. We have all had those moments where we are asked to do things to make the mission happen. There are times we have to stay late or go on a last minute trip or even a planned 6-month deployment. We now have to sacrifice a school play, dinner with the spouse, a concert we were looking forward to, or even a planned workout. We all have a story about something we had to give up because the job was demanding our time and our energy. Service before self is a core value of the Air Force and one that is often the toughest to internalize, especially when families are involved.
During my in-processing briefing with new instructors, I discuss the challenges of learning a new job and that there is going to be a huge time demand on the front end. The first year is going to be very rough mentally as they learn the ins and outs of being an instructor and all their extra duties. I tell them this is where the balancing act comes in to play and to warn their families things are going to be shifted towards the career in the beginning and they may be a bit more stressed; however, I will make it up to them.
As a supervisor we have all dealt with these balancing acts with our people. One of your dual-military teammates just had his wife deploy and he is now a single dad. Clearly, his family needs to take priority for this window of time. Sometimes demands at home pull others away from the shop. As leaders we need to be having conversations with our subordinates and working with them to make sure they are taken care of and that both of you understand this is a temporary thing. Sure we can be jerks and tell them they need to figure out how to make it all work, but often all it takes is a few extra minutes of work for us and a little tweak in their schedules to create a viable solution. This is a win for all because they are not stressed the whole time at work and their heads are in the game.
As supervisors we need to be on the lookout for those in our shops who may have a balance issue and help them level the scales. This is something that will be greatly appreciated by them and will benefit the collective whole. We also need to be cognizant of the balance of our own lives. Look to see what area in your life is demanding more of your time or what area seems to be really suffering and figure out how to make things right as soon as you can. Being aware of this will make you happier and improve the morale of your team.