My Ideal Work Life: Striking A Balance Between Family & Work

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2012-04-1623

A lot of us share the dream of being able to change our lifestyle (for the better) while still being able to afford all the things we’ve become accustomed to. If given a chance, a lot of people would prefer to get off the rat race and retire from corporate life. This is one of the most commonly held dreams that we have. I can say that this sentiment was in fact something I harbored for a long time, as a full time working mother with two young kids. In my case, I put in at least fifteen years in the corporate circuit, which felt like a much longer time than it actually was.


Then there came a time when I faced a fork in my career, and I contemplated when and whether to “jump ship” from the predictable work path I had carved out for myself and move into the unknown. Of course, I had a lot of concerns back then, which I believe are common concerns felt by many who are seeking a reprieve from the current state of their work life. As part of a dual income household, allow me to share some of my thought processes below.

Is It Time To Overhaul Your Work Life?

Do you ever feel that you’re at an age and stage in your life where you need change? In my case, there was a point when I felt less comfortable about working in Silicon Valley startups and technical teams at the same level as single, younger guys who churn out software code at a zillion lines an hour. As a dedicated “careerist”, I wondered about where my career was going: should I try to work my way up the corporate ladder and join management OR strike it out on my own and begin my own business ventures? Should I take a step back and aim to be a stay-at-home “mompreneur” instead? I eventually decided that I needed a break from the corporate world for a while, so I began nixing any form of career advancement in a 9-to-5 setting, which can actually become quite demanding and consuming. After much careful reflection, my spouse and I both decided to re-orient ourselves towards becoming more self-independent financially in order to give ourselves more time with family.

But this type of change doesn’t come easy. As you enter a time of larger budgets and expenses, you’ll need to explore this type of shift via all angles, starting out with making the proper justifications for it. There were a few things I thought about as I sought more balance in my work and family life.

How Can I Build A More Ideal Work Life?

1. Know what life you want and why you want it.
What’s your ideal work life? Do you wish you could run your own show and still make a decent living? Perhaps the kind of work life that you want is something that you could control and manage better. But for change to happen, you’ve got to start somewhere, and usually, there are signs that plant that seed in your mind. In my case, my stress levels were reaching an unhealthy level. So I sought inspiration somewhere.

Work At Home

I came across the story of Maureen Evans, who was once a working mom. But at some point, she begun working on her own terms. She ditched her job to start her own public relations company, capitalizing on the skills she developed while cultivating her career. She was able to achieve what seems to be an elusive goal for a lot of people: a happy balance between work and quality of life. She was one of many who inspired me to want to make a change with my own life.

2. Acknowledge and expect the challenges you’ll face with change.
As part of my own desire to capture that happy medium, I reflected on the question: Are we ready for a change? While change is good, it may not always be easy. Usually, the most common concern is a financial one. If you slow down in favor of a more balanced life, you may end up having to give up some or all of your current paycheck or you may have to readjust some of your work goals. You may have to give up current ambitions and redirect your energies elsewhere. Some people, have had to alter their lives radically and think about downsizing. But what’s great about this exercise is that you aren’t forced by the whims of the economy to slow down. Instead, you are doing so voluntarily. Change does not happen to you, but rather, you are the one who dictates those changes. From my experience, this is actually quite empowering.

So you may wonder whether you need a big shift or just a series of smaller adjustments to feel less stress in your life. You should weigh the tradeoffs. It’s easy to feel that you may need to do something radical in order to be happier, but before you go down that path entirely, you may want to first make smaller changes to see if they make a difference.

3. Determine if you can afford to change.
Some years back, my entrepreneurial spouse decided to take the leap into an uncertain future in business. So for a time, it was up to me to bring in whatever income to keep us afloat, as my spouse pursued his work interests. But in California (I’m sure many Californians or San Franciscans will agree), it’s almost impossible to live on one income unless of course you’re either:

  • Extremely frugal and live very *very* modestly
  • Someone with a small family or who has minimal or no dependents
  • One of the “Haves” in this neighborhood, where your single income supersedes the GNP of a small Pacific island

But from our experience, even residents in the most expensive areas can make it work, albeit with some careful planning. Find out what kind of deficits you’ll have in your income stream and see how to plug those. Have you got savings set aside for this transition? Are there any expenses you can cut for an extended period of time? Can you actually live on one income while you develop a new game plan?

Tip: You can actually test this plan out before actually executing it permanently: while you and your spouse are still gainfully employed, try subsisting on one income for a period of time, while setting aside the earnings of the other spouse in a savings account (and don’t touch that account!). Try this exercise for a while to build up reserves and to get accustomed to one income. Only make your move if you feel that you can be comfortable living this way. There’s nothing to lose by trying this experiment first.

For us, our immediate plan was to determine how we could close that spending gap and to LEARN how to live on one income for the long term.

4. Keep visualizing your goals and the future.
Keep your eye on your prize. If you keep focused on the future, the short term hiccups may not be as miserable as they seem. When we thought about what it was that we truly wanted to achieve, not just for ourselves but for our entire family, then certain options made better sense. Specifically, our plan was to better define our roles as providers and parents. For families with growing children, this usually means that time becomes your most valuable resource. If this is your story, then find out if you can work out a more flexible schedule with your employer or if it’s best that you establish a new, more flexible routine for yourself. When you think about what can be, you’ll be much more motivated to do something about it.

Our current goal is to become more financially self-reliant with lives that have improved work/ life/ family balance. We all want the time to spend on more things that are meaningful to us and our families. If you’re feeling tired, stressed and unhappy about your job today, realize that you can make changes that can be healthier for you. It all starts with knowing what it is you’d like to change and what it’s all for.

Created September 4, 2007. Updated April 16, 2012. Copyright © 2012 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Carl Zetterlund September 4, 2007 at 1:49 pm

I’m definitely not in the same position as you, but I think your situation is commonly felt.

It’s fascinating to me how people deal with marriage in general where each person has their own aspirations. I guess it’s one big balancing act.

Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m sure I’ll be in a similar situation in the years to come.

David September 4, 2007 at 7:04 pm

Multiple steams of income is a must so if one messes up you still have others to cover your back. You’re doing a great job with this blog so I’m sure the revenue generated from this website is helping your family out.

Silicon Valley Blogger September 4, 2007 at 11:30 pm

Carl,
I can tell this predicament is a very common one just by seeing the number of blogs and carnivals dedicate to this subject :). I never thought I would shoot for this one income/ work-at-home goal in the past since I expected to work at a job till the traditional retirement age. My main reasons to keep a job were my love for technology and my desire for “social” contact with friends and professional colleagues. I should have known that once you have children, the formula often changes. I thought I would buck this trend.

David,
We definitely would like to establish alternative income streams and blogging is certainly one such avenue. Many folks in the blogosphere have continued to impress me with their resourcefulness and creativity as far as success with non-day-job income is concerned. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue on this route into the future.

Brip Blap September 5, 2007 at 3:24 am

My wife gave up her analyst job at an investment bank when our son arrived, and I keep slugging away at the 9-to-5 job. I have realized over the past 2+ years that it probably would have made better sense for me to stay home and for her to go back to work. She needs the social contact more than I do and enjoyed her work more than I do. The only problem was that I outearned her 2 to 1.

We continually kick the tires on moving to a cheaper environment (we’re in the NYC area) so that even ONE big income isn’t totally necessary… but then jobs become an issue since both of us have somewhat specialized skills.

I guess all I’m getting at is that we’ve been doing the traditional “daddy works, mommy stays at home” thing for a little more than 2 years and it hasn’t been as great as we hoped for – and not because of the money, surprisingly, but because my wife misses her work more than she thought she would and because now – despite being a consultant who theoretically could have a lot of free time on my hands – I feel more ‘stuck’ cranking out hours than I did before, since our income dropped by 40% and living expenses went up. Tough stuff!

My Trader's Journal September 5, 2007 at 8:12 am

We’re facing the same decisions, again. My wife stayed home for nearly a year after our son was born and went back to work after being courted back for a new job making more than either of us made before. We saved a bunch for a while and then moved to a bigger house. Now both of our jobs are coming to an end before the end of this year. Whichever of us lands the better job first might be the involuntary sole income earner for a while.
We still want more “stuff” and a better investment account balance before we voluntarily stop working.

paidtwice September 5, 2007 at 5:25 pm

Navigating what you want and what you need is so tricky. I hope your spouse’s business goes wonderfully and you can achieve your goals.

Good luck! I’m still working on what I want to be when I grow up. ;)

Tom September 5, 2007 at 7:14 pm

California is defintely expensive and you’re right, it’s hard to live off one income. Has your family ever thought of possibly re-locating to another state or a cheaper area? I was just curious. Good luck!

Silicon Valley Blogger September 6, 2007 at 12:11 am

@Brip Blap,
I never imagined I’d go for the traditional approach of having mom stay at home to watch over the kids while dad worked. But when I discovered I could still work albeit at home, I changed my tune! Now I’m eager to refashion our lives and work schedules so I can get going on some cool biz ideas. :) Plus, I’d like to organize more play dates…

@My Trader’s Journal,
Good luck after this year and any changes you’re facing thereafter. Somehow things usually work out pretty well after the adjustment period.

@Paid Twice, Thanks for the wishes. :)

@Tom, yes, we’ve entertained the possibility of relocating someday. But so far, all our relatives and extended family are in our immediate vicinity so it would be tough. We do have Australia in our sights but moving there is a long ways a way.

kenzee September 8, 2007 at 5:08 pm

Your post makes me think of other women I’ve seen in similar situations and I have to say that I find it depressing that it seems like most of the time, it’s the woman who ends up staying home when the kids arrive and a couple decides that it would better to have one of them at home. There are plenty of men who probably aren’t that happy with the 9 to 5 grind but feel some pressure to stay with their job, particularly if it pays more than the the wife’s. I’m rambling, but I do lament disappearance of smart, talented women leaving the corporate scene. Some of them do end up doing the entrepreneurial thing, but not many.

Silicon Valley Blogger September 8, 2007 at 10:30 pm

I think that decisions to raise a family, handle jobs and develop a particular lifestyle and routine are pretty much up to each family to work out themselves. Unfortunately, a lot of these decisions are colored by money requirements and therefore, people stick to the job that pays more even if they aren’t as happy about it. It’s true that necessity forces us to make such hard choices at times. But regarding talented women who leave the corporate scene — I know quite a few, and for these people, I have only seen them find great fulfillment in their roles as stay at home mothers.

I guess in the end, it’s all a balancing act where we figure out how to get the most happiness out of the situation we’re in. There’s a lot of give-and-take in a partnership as well such that sacrifice and fulfillment are juggled in the most optimal way at any one time.

Terry September 22, 2007 at 1:37 pm

Hi. I had to stop and respond because I am in the very same dilemma that you are in right now. I feel a very serious calling to leave my corporate job to spend more time with my family and to start my own business. I have so many interests that I don’t know where to start. I hope to figure it out soon. My soul is calling me to explore this. Thanks for your post.

Karen Putz September 25, 2007 at 5:05 am

When my first son was born, I went back to work. I lasted exactly two months. I’ve been at home ever since, picking up jobs here and there. I’m now at the point where I’m ready to go back full time and I am so thankful we had those years with me at home. We did give up a lot of things but it was worth it.

Tina November 4, 2007 at 12:54 pm

Wow, I can totally related to this post. I am single, make a reasonable salary, have a fulfilling life, etc., and considering having a child on my own. In the past, I’ve always said if I only had this xx money, I’d have a child. But now I’m realizing what a lame excuse that is since I am running out of time. If we want something bad enough, we can change our lifestyle and find a way to make it happen.

Good luck!

Shaun Rosenberg August 9, 2008 at 3:52 pm

Sounds great, If you keep working at it you will become financially independent. Good luck.

Self Employed August 14, 2008 at 6:30 pm

SVB – I’ve been working since the age of 16. Found myself in the corporate IT world just shy of 15 years ago and am now managing the global network operations for a large company. Advancing to management was the worst career move I ever made.

My love of technology has faded (likely because I spend far less time playing with gadgets these days and far too much time on conference calls). In any event, I found myself facing the same drives and motivations you are with a few extra thrown in.

In any event, as a kindred spirit, I wish you, your husband and your family the absolute best of luck. It’s a scary proposition to be off on your own. I’m just getting started and not ready to entirely let go of the corporate apron strings just yet, but when I do it will be because of inspirational examples such as yours.

BCC December 8, 2008 at 11:07 am

Working from home is a great thing for your lifestyle and health if you can do it. I think it is really about making a consistent income outside of work before you leap and downsizing expenses to make it a reality.

Smokey July 16, 2009 at 3:30 am

My dear hubby’s job was literally driving him crazy so he left it, at age 47. Since then, he has remodeled our kitchen & 2 bathrooms, works part time for my accounting business mainly saving my bacon in every way, and does all of our shopping and yard work.

It is a little scary for me to be responsible for the money coming in, plus hubby has had to let go of the prestige and still struggles for social contacts, but overall it’s been quite wonderful.

I think 1 1/2 jobs is more than enough for any couple, even those without children.

Giles Pickford December 30, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Hullo from Australia.

When I told my works mates that I was going to retire they told me that when I did I would suddenly become invisible. I would cease to exist. So I started up an organisation for people like me. The organisation I used to work for eventually made us into a Chapter. Read all about it here.

Cheers

Giles Pickford
Wollongong Australia

Silicon Valley Blogger December 30, 2010 at 3:37 pm

@Uncle Giles, thanks for your tips. It’s so nice to see you here! Thanks for the info on your retirement group.

You know who this is… :-D

CMOE April 17, 2012 at 9:41 am

Good article. I just have to add that having a good work life doesn’t necessarily mean giving up your full-time job and working from home. Too many people think that working from home automatically means they’re striking the right work-life balance, but there are people who go to an office and are still able to have quality time with their families and have enough time to themselves.

Silicon Valley Blogger April 17, 2012 at 10:40 am

@CMOE,
Definitely — there are many ways to achieve the balance between work and home life. The main point is that you are content about how you are dealing with all aspects of your life (health, family, social relationships, work, finances, leisure time, community activities, etc) so that you can sustain your lifestyle indefinitely at high levels of happiness and satisfaction. You’ll probably know when things are out of whack. You’ll probably notice people saying “you don’t seem yourself lately” or “anymore”.

Many people notice themselves “changing” in such situations (e.g. mood swings, weight gain, feeling stress/depression, etc) and it’s times like these when you should consider changing something about your environment.

I’ve worked in quite a number of Valley firms/companies and a few of them are very sensitive to their employees’ overall well being and have great programs to assist in this regard. The problem though is that sometimes, what HR provides for you may not be in line with what your supervisor, manager or team lead has in mind for you (or your career path) and therein lies some conflict. Sometimes we are unlucky to have an unsympathetic boss that may neutralize the effect of such HR support programs.

Jomel April 19, 2012 at 8:41 am

Hi I feel compelled to seek advice regarding my situation.

I am taking my graduate studies in an Asian city and is due to graduate end of next year, and at the same time I am working as a home tutor to supplement my stipend, giving me about $3500 per month in total. My boyfriend earns less than me at $2800, which leaves him at $2300 after contributing to a retirement account.

I realized I was pregnant suddenly and this has changed my life completely. I am rushing to get married next month (sudden expenses) and the baby is due by end of this year (even more expenses). I am trying hard to complete my research graduate studies as much as possible but many uncertainties lie ahead. Should I be the one to stay at home to take care of the child, or would my husband be a better person to take on that role (since I can bring home a larger piece of bread)? He is alright with being a househusband but in Asian countries, traditional gender roles are more prominent and I am not sure how to handle this. Please advise. Thank you!

Silicon Valley Blogger April 19, 2012 at 1:24 pm

@Jomel,
Thanks for your question. In my mind, I would go with the more practical solution. If you are the one with the larger income potential in the household and you are interested in building a career, then you should trade roles. Times have changed and families need to be flexible enough to change with the times, or you may only be hurting yourself. That’s my take anyway.

I think of a family as a team — in all respects. You are a couple and a team that will raise your children in the best possible environment. You should also think about how you want to steer your family financially, socially and spiritually. I am much more practical than I am traditional, so you can expect me to share this type of advice.

I come from an Asian country and my family and friends still live in my homeland. But I grew up in a more open household. Both my parents worked and most of the women in my family have the choice to pursue careers or not. In fact, my own father took early retirement at the age of 50 while my mother continues to stay in a high level executive position (and pursue many other career and work goals). Today, my parents are in their 70s and my mom still does the heavy lifting. It’s what makes them both happy!

Ultimately, you will find that life will throw you enough curve balls to turn you into a more practical, flexible individual. When traditions restrict your potential (or your family’s), you’ll need to decide if they are worth preserving.

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