The Puzzle of a True Work Life Balance

Aaron Blank / January 12, 2015

The holidays give us an opportunity to reflect on our year.  How did I improve?  How did I develop as a person?  Do my clothes still fit the way I want them to?  Hopefully the answers all add up to a positive.

This year a big realization came to me not from reflecting on the year past, but on the holidays themselves.  I spent a good deal of time with my family.  We ate meals, opened presents, caught colds, all together in the same place.  It was a good deal of what people refer to as “quality time”.  One of the things I did with my kids while we were sniffling together at home was play games.  It was three or four or five or so. We watched with furrowed brows, long silences punctuated with the occasional excited satisfaction of a Tic Tac Toe win.  It was great.  I thought, I need more of this.  We all do. 

My mentor Paul Meyer, Executive Director of Private Banking at JP Morgan in Seattle, once told me the only regret he had looking back at his time working his way to the top was missing too many mornings seeing his kids off to school.  He’d leave for work long before they’d had their breakfast so he could make his day really count, which he always did.  His career has been a success by any measure, one that many will try and emulate.  I’m in my mid-thirties and the CEO of an established and respected company.  Like many, I got here by working hard.  But how will I reflect on my life when I retire?  How do I balance my career and my home-life so that everybody wins?  It’s another puzzle.

For most of us, the workday is scheduled out in blocks of time.  8:00-8:30, answer emails.  10:00-11:00, team meeting.  12:00-12:05, lunch, and so on.  When done right, this system maximizes efficiency throughout the day.  I’m an early riser.  I start working at home at about 5 A.M.  While it’s true that I usually meet my goal of being home by 6 P.M., the mornings are pretty booked.  Or are they?

When we think about our families, we don’t like to use the same structures and language as we do at work.  It seems cold, mechanical.  Quality time is called that because it’s not quantifiable.  Penciling out thirty minutes to make snowflakes with my daughter makes my own house feel like a bureaucracy.  We want it to feel natural and spontaneous.  Unfortunately, and we’ve all been there, the snowflakes tend to lose out to an urgent email if we let things fall naturally.

Our time at home is broken up into the same puzzle pieces as our time at work.  A minute is a minute no matter where you are or what’s happening.  The minutes are ours but we’ve got to use them wisely.  A five hundred-piece puzzle can be all sky.  It can be all grass.  Or it can be a good balance of both.  It’s up to us to decide how we divide our own lives to make every piece count.

This year I’m pledging to break up my mornings a little differently.  Sure I’ll still get up and start working at an ungodly hour.  Sure I’ll still do my best to be on my game all day long.  But I’m going to see my kids off to school, too.  My day could always use a little more blue sky. Complete your puzzle in 2015!


The Yantis-Blank family taking in some good work life balance at Disney Land.

Comments (2)

    Blake Lewis avatar

    Blake Lewis Jan 15, 2015, 2:45 PM

    Great piece. Our cultural values are similar, as is the challenge to be true to them. Thanks for extending the discussion to those of us in your circle of mentorship.

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Aaron Blank

CEO & President, Partner

Aaron has been engaged in the conversation since the late 1990s, where he discovered his love of media while working at local radio stations. After five years as a radio reporter, anchor, producer and promoter in New York and Connecticut, he and his wife, Lacey, ventured west to begin his career in PR. Soon he caught the attention of industry legend Pat Fearey and the rest is history. Two decades later, as CEO and owner of Fearey, Aaron leads with tireless enthusiasm and contagious drive. In 2014, he became the next generation owner of the firm. He takes his breakfast at 4:30 AM and never eats lunch alone. You can find him working to connect the next business with tomorrow’s leader.

Personal philosophy: do something amazing every day and be fearless!