Situational Balance for Work and Life

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Mark Roman
  • 501CSW
Finding a proper work-life balance can sometimes seem to be an impossible task. We think 50/50 is the true concept of balance, but realistically with what work and life throws at us, it is around 80/20. What we really need to do is find the right balance at the right moment in our careers and the variety of positions we fill. Finding balance is imperative as we need to build endurance and longevity in our commitment to our nation’s defense, ensuring we bring our ‘A’ game as much as possible.

Personally, my biggest challenge was in my second assignment, which was also my first overseas job. My first Air Force assignment allowed me to build a balance of 75/25 or 80/20, where I found healthy time to equalize my work and personal life at the time. When I arrived in Okinawa, I was three years into my now 17-year marriage, and relocated thousands of miles with our 2-year-old son. I walked into a position to be a group executive officer … in a Maintenance Group outside of my specialty … with two days of turnover … in a country where English was not the primary language … and where I started working 10-12 hours a day after less than a week on the ground. This completely derailed the work-life balance I had grown accustomed to. My family and I were thrust into a tailspin and we had to adjust immediately.

This assignment was the biggest challenge in my career. I had to notify my family, with no real warning, that I wasn’t going to be as engaged as often as before. It was here I recognized the work-life balance isn’t purely yours to own — it impacted my family almost instantaneously. The life part of my balance was severed. The significant change caused chaos and stress within myself and for my family. It threatened my commitment to perform at my best and even caused me to reflect on my career’s future. Was this the life I should expect? Was my first assignment a ruse? Was my family prepared or flexible enough to deal with this? Would it be better if I found a different career?

Fortunately, my family and I had always been great communicators with life and how things were affecting us. The chaos would eventually subside, not because anything changed at work or with life, but because I was able to construct a balance that worked for this new environment. This helped me understand that as the jobs shifted, the assignment locations moved and my children grew up, the balance would have to change.

Seventeen years later, I still find myself challenged with this from time to time, but find my family and I better equipped to respond to it now because we learned from this difficult assignment. Primarily, I learned that when you put your current work-life balance at risk, you need to keep the lines of communication open and prepare as soon as possible. Communication doesn’t necessarily mean it’s limited to your family — finding peers, supervisors and mentors can be just as helpful. If you have an immediate family, you need to discuss this change with them and put the resiliency plan in place. Even if you don’t have an immediate family, you need to reflect on yourself because you will find that you get accustomed to some personal balance as well … a hobby, chore, sport or some other personal interest. This will all be at risk if that balance shifts, and knowing this will prepare you better mentally to take on the challenge. It’s important to recognize because you either have to find the balance that works for your situation, or perhaps find that moment to change your career status. We all want to bring our ‘A’ game all the time to everything we do. You just need to be prepared and flexible to find the right balance that works for your given situation during or after your Air Force career.