For a long time — much longer than I’d like to admit — I didn’t realize you could work hard and have a life. I heard others talk about work-life balance, but I wasn’t very good at it.
I felt very obliged to be loyal at work and prioritized work above my personal life, which was wrong-headed. For example, I was bad at taking vacations. The trips I did take were to visit family and focused on fulfilling an obligation, not about creating an opportunity to share a new experience and time with others.
For example, one time we did plan a big beach vacation over the Fourth of July (so I wouldn’t have to miss that much work). Then, a week before the trip, I was promoted to COO at eBay. As we were on our way to the airport I received a call with news that eBay was buying PayPal. Given the magnitude of this deal, I was needed back at work. I told my family to go without me, but they decided to go home too. Needless to say, everyone was disappointed.
Then there was date night. I flunked that too. That was a huge mistake; I love spending time with my wife and I should have carved out a consistent time to do it. Later, when I was the CEO of LiveOps, we reinstated a Wednesday date night. I came home earlier to have dinner, go to a movie, or play nine holes of golf. I took this commitment seriously and even though I didn’t have a perfect track record, I was trying. (I was about 80% compliant.) Everyone knew about my Wednesday night plans and tried to respect them. Soon, everyone in the company started having date nights on Wednesdays. At first I was confused and I thought to myself, “I’ve been working 30 years, and I just started doing this, how come you can start now?”
But — I now know — they were right to be so invested in building in consistent time with their loved ones. I wish I had received the memo earlier. Spending time with the people we care about, showing them that you care, and respecting them is the most important job anyone has.
With that realization, I’ve tried to become better at fully delivering on my job responsibilities both at work and at home. We joined a vacation service where we paid upfront for a certain number of vacations a year. Admittedly, I picked the one that had high-speed networks at every offering and that allowed us to give days to other family members if we couldn’t use them all. Upon reflection, I realize that was cheating a bit, and now, in an effort to be better, I’ve committed to start using all of them.
Last year we went on the trip of a lifetime. We did come home early, but I’m proud to say, for the first time, it was not because of my work. This year we’re planning another cool family trip. I’m looking forward to staying the whole time! I’m getting better at this, but it’s still a work in progress.
Giving the people I love the most the care and respect they deserve, is the most important skill I have to master. I now know, when it comes to life and work, it’s not Either/Or. A truly rewarding life is defined by making everything work together. Every moment counts.