Balancing Your Life (Part 1): Work

KJ: Finding balance in your life is one of the toughest challenges I think we all face in balancing family, friends, obligations, working out, work, money, time, and all scare resources, so we thought we would write a series about balancing your life. It’s never perfect, but maintaining awareness of the balance you seek is half the battle. This week we will focus on finding the right balance in work.

AJ: I love the phrase “work hard, play harder” because ultimately it’s what we all aspire to do. I don’t know that we’re shining examples of having perfected this balance, but we certainly try. Early on in our relationship we both became workaholics and committed to each other that we wouldn’t be the couple who stayed at the office until 8 every night. Instead, we both choose to get up earlier, work through lunch, and most days both make it home by 6 so we can spend our evenings however we choose. There’s a lot that ultimately goes into your work/life balance, so as you make career moves, consider the following:

Salary & Benefits
AJ & KJ: Having the salary you want is great. Ensuring that the benefits package that goes along with that salary is just as great is sometimes not quite as strong a consideration for some. The cost of benefits vs. the value of benefits can be a tough balance. People often take quality benefits (401k match, medical insurance, coverage for your spouse, etc) for granted and don’t really focus on them unless the cost of benefits increases or coverage decreases. Consider the larger picture when you take into account what you actually “make” before leaping at a higher top-line number in exchange for lower quality benefits across the board. Unless you work for a large company, you often have few (more expensive) options for health insurance or retirement savings or 401k match programs. As such, when you start to add up the HSA, 401(k) match, employer paid health insurance, commuter benefits, benefits for public transportation, or expensable mileage.

AJ: For some people the commute alone is the difference between the perfect job and their nightmare realized. I have a 10-15 minute commute, while Kirby has a 30-45 minute commute. I love having a shorter commute because it allows me flexibility in the evenings to take care of things like errands and grocery shopping before Kirby even makes it home. Kirby doesn’t mind his commute as much because he carpools and loves his company but also loves where we live, so for him, the commute is worth it. If you’re spending 2 hours a day in the car you really have to consider if the job you love is adding to your quality of life or detracting from it. It’s really a personal preference.
KJ: Sometimes a long commute can actually be a benefit. For me, I get to carpool, so every other week I get to catch up on e-mails, read, and if possible, even work on the blog! While it means very little down time throughout the day, it allows me to get the work done I need to while preventing me from having to stay in the office until 6 every day. Not to mention, there are definitely some great added bonuses of having reduced toll costs, gasoline budget, and ultimately ware and tear on my car.

AJ: For most of the people I know, flexibility in their position is almost as important as salary. Being able to leave early for your grandmother’s birthday dinner or taking a long lunch to pick a friend up at the airport may not seem like significant benefits in a job, but to many people having flexibility equates to happiness and a feeling of being more free, which is really significant.

Over and above expectations
AJ: Some jobs require multiple working dinners, as networking and socializing are as important in some industries as the work itself. Having to be away from home in the evenings can be an absolute deal breaker for some, while for others it is a nice break from everyday life. Consider things like required happy hours, dinners and above all else, travel. It doesn’t seem like much to ask for travel 15% of the time, that’s still roughly 37 days of travel a year or an average close to one day per week, which isn’t at all insignificant if you’re a homebody.
KJ: We’re both homebodies, but if you do enjoy frequent work travel, there can be some great benefits of expensing trips, mileage, and meals, so you can earn rewards on your credit card toward future trips or cash savings (as is the case with our cash rewards credit card we use).

Bringing it all together
AJ: I once heard someone I like and respect say that you should identify the three most important things to you about a career (salary, flexibility, development opportunities, for example) and if at least two of those things are going well, you stay put. If the three most important things about your career aren’t going well, it’s probably time to start looking for a new opportunity. As you consider what means the most to you in your career, I encourage you to take on a system similar to the two out of three line of thinking. You might find comfort in it when you have a rough week at work but can stop to check off that the things that first drew you to the position are still valid, I know it has helped me when the going has gotten tough.
KJ: No job is perfect in all regards. Maybe you have to work more than you like, don’t have the flexibility you want, things aren’t as stable in the organization, your pay isn’t quite what you want, your benefits aren’t quite what you want (or are nonexistent), or the stress is more than you prefer. With the almost infinite possibility of combinations, do what Angela said and similar to buying a house, make a list of your must haves.

    How do you maintain balance?
    What causes you to feel out of balance?
    Tell us about your top three priorities in your job.

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