20 Years From Now, the Only People Who Will Remember That You Worked Late Are Your Kids

Photo: Getty Images.

How do you balance the tradeoffs between work, ambition, and success and the relationships that matter the most to you?

The title of this article isn’t a snarky line from Succession directed at Logan Roy by Shiv, Roman, or Kendall.

Instead, it’s a quote from this Reddit post:

The post, and the discussion that followed, clearly struck a nerve. As Sahil Bloom notes, one of the most popular replies regards the regrets of people who choose — whether by intention or necessity — presence at work over presence with family:

I’ve missed so many birthdays, plays, and events for work, and I can’t even tell you why. I don’t remember what I was working on, I can’t tell you why it was important. But I can tell you how my not being there made my kids feel.

Don’t be like me.

The commenter clearly has a point; to paraphrase David Brooks, resume virtues are fleeting, while eulogy virtues last forever.

But as with most things, balancing work and family is easier said than done: everyone talks about work-life balance, and nearly everyone struggles to achieve it.

Partly that’s because of faulty math. Many people assume the only way to achieve work-life balance is to spend the same number of hours on work as they do on life. Spend eight hours at work, and clearly eight hours of me time are required.

But for most people, that’s impossible. Many of us work more than eight hours a day. Many of us sleep at least seven hours a day. (Or should.) Add chores, errands, commuting, getting a little exercise (if only because exercise can make you a better leader), and all the other things you need to do every day, and what’s left? For many, maybe an hour or two.

Which means work and life — or, more specifically, work and family/friends — will never balance.

But what if you do a different kind of math? What if you focus not on the number of hours you spend on life, but on the quality of those hours?

That’s the best way (and, really, the only way) to better balance the scales.

If you feel your work-life balance is off, focus less on the number of life hours and more on the quality of life hours. Don’t watch your kids play; play with them. Listen to them. Spend garbage time with them.

You’ll feel more balanced, because you’ll feel the time you spent with them — or, if you don’t have children, with people who matter to you — mattered. (I know plenty of people who come home from work, have dinner with their family, spend the evening together, and then work late after the kids go to bed.)

Don’t go to the gym and slog through a treadmill workout. Knock out a difficult workout designed to help you achieve a fitness goal.

You’ll feel more balanced, because you’ll feel the time you spent exercising mattered.

The goal is to be intentional, even with seemingly passive activities. Don’t just settle for whatever the Netflix algorithm feeds you. Make a list. Know ahead of time what you’ll watch when you get the time. (Put Peaky Blinders on the list.)

You’ll enjoy the experience more, and you’ll feel like the time you spent watching TV mattered.

In short, don’t try to balance the number of hours you spend on work and life. Don’t focus on balancing the number of hours you spend at work with the hours spent with people you love. Those equations will always leave you feeling discouraged and unfulfilled.

Instead, focus on making the most of every hour of life you have, by experiencing them in the ways that leave you feeling the most fulfilled.

Maybe then you’ll come closer to balancing the scales.

And someday avoid the regret that comes from wishing you could go back and do things differently.