Some thoughts on family and work-life balance
I think by now my convictions have become clear. A lot of money and the luxury it offers will never make you happy, but you need enough to live. The most valuable asset is time and the freedom to share and enjoy it with the people who are important to you.
Today, this aspect is often summarized with the term “work-life balance”. I am not quite happy with this term, because, for me, work (“Work”) is an important and also beautiful aspect of my life (“Life”). It almost sounds as if work and life are opposites. I would have rather called it Work-Family-Balance or Work-Private-Balance to emphasize that one serves to generate income and the other uses the income in a meaningful way.
For many people, this balance is not given: In a relationship, one person (often still the man) works 10-14 hours a day and sometimes even on weekends to pursue a career and earn as much money as possible. To what? “To enjoy the time later.” But when will that time come? In three years, in five years? But certainly the responsibility and the pressure will have increased even more by then, and it will be important to give your all again, because the next career step is within reach. Why this step? “To enjoy the time even better later, because with even more money.”
The great happiness and freedom and “life” are often postponed until retirement. The problem: Those who work so much often cannot enjoy their pension at all anymore, because they are so used to work that it is difficult to switch off. Often problems in the family, alienation from the children, are inherited, as there were hardly any really common and relaxed times. In addition, and frequently, there are divorces, alcohol problems and not infrequently burnout and/or chronic illness.
A friend of mine is a partner in a law firm. The founder and main owner holds 57% of the shares, has always worked a lot. Over the last Christmas holidays of 2019 he suddenly fell over and was dead. He left behind a law firm that was fully dependent on him and his client relationships, so that the other partners now find it difficult to run the business alone. He leaves behind a wife and children who have waited all his working life for him to work enough to have time for them. Well, he hasn’t kept his promise and he couldn’t take anything with him on his last journey. How sad.
As a young person, I always had the feeling that wealth is not a desirable goal, because it does not make you happy, but brings additional problems. For what you possess, at the same time also possesses you. You notice this at the latest when you have taken out a loan for a property. It has always been important to me to earn enough to be able to live from it without worries, but I didn’t need expensive cars, watches, HiFi systems, and other status symbols. I also deliberately did not want to have a steep career, because I suspected that the high responsibility would be very stressful.
But as I am fortunately in a prosperous country and also blessed with a not entirely stupid head, there were always opportunities to make “career steps” and each time I thought: Why not? So I did my doctorate after my studies when I was asked. At some point I became a manager at an IT Company, then a partner, and was asked if I wanted to become the founder and managing director of a new location in Shanghai.
Every new job I did went pretty well and I also had fun. But of course, it also meant more stress and responsibility. I had also become a father of two. In Hong Kong, the pressure was finally too much and I first had sleep disorders and then panic attacks. I continued to work in this state for a few more weeks, but soon I asked for help because I felt that my “baby”, the office in Hong Kong with meanwhile 20 employees, would be threatened if I collapsed. And that was only a matter of time.
Luckily I work in a very good company and so a suitable replacement for me was sent immediately and four weeks later I was able to take a longer break. I used this time off to rethink my life and my work. I decided that I would take time out to recover and consolidate my life. I decided to simplify my life considerably. I agreed with my employer to take another year of sabbatical, resigned from a club that was taking up too much of my time, stopped reading and listening to the news (which I used to do all the time), left my smartphone at home as much as possible, stopped surfing the Internet “for fun”, did more sports, and increasingly a vegetarian diet.
The burnout in Hong Kong was definitely the hardest and most painful time of my life and it took me a year to get back on my feet. But I also remembered my views from before and decided that I wanted back to the roots: Less focus on socially acceptable work and money, but more time for family and the freedom to live my life. Now I earn less but have more. Among other things, the time to write this book, which is a matter close to my heart.