Work-Life Balance

This isn’t a “today I’ve learned,” but a “thing I’ve learned from working a long time in this industry.” I’m also taking advice to “write what you repeat”, and I’ve repeated this a lot over the years as I’ve interviewed people — usually recent college graduates — for roles at Microsoft, Facebook, and now Duolingo. They ask me, “What’s the work-life balance like at your company?”

Here’s the same answer I’ve given for years: I can’t say what will be true for you, but for me, work life balance has been about my life stage, not about my company.

When I started working at Microsoft, I was fresh out of grad school. I didn’t have kids or many responsibilities outside of work. I liked what I was doing. My wife also worked at Microsoft, she also liked her work, and we hated sitting in traffic. So, we crossed the 520 bridge from Seattle to Redmond before rush hour, returned home well after rush hour, and built a life that revolved around our work. Even when we weren’t in the office, it was easy to let work bleed over into our evenings and weekends.

Fast forward many (many) years: My wife and I were still both working at Microsoft, but now we had two small kids. Suddenly, life no longer revolved around work — it centered instead on helping our two little humans grow and thrive. My workday had really hard boundaries at both the beginning of the day and the end of the day. Once I was home, I focused my attention and energy on family, not work.

This is the exact same company, with the exact same management and the exact same company culture, with the exact same person still working there (me), but with two very different pictures of “work life balance.” Microsoft didn’t change in the intervening years. I changed, by moving to a different life stage.

This is on my mind these days because I’m in another life stage (with yet another on the horizon). I love my work and my kids are older and don’t need constant supervision. However, we’re just three years away from having both kids off at college. As Tim Urban puts it, I’m at the tail end of my time with them. They don’t need as much of my time — and, quite honestly, don’t seem to want much of time or attention any more. However, because I’m at the tail end, any time they do want to spend with me is a gift and trumps anything that my job might want me to pay attention to. I’m at a new life stage with a new work-life balance. I suspect that in five years, when I’m firmly in the “empty nest” stage, I’ll have yet another view of the new work-life balance for my new life stage. Life keeps changing, so the balance point changes, too.