Modern achievement based culture, especially culture in the USA is based on the purported need to be above average, excellent or to stand out. This is reinforced in school, all the way through the workplace where trappings of success constantly remind us of the game, and our position in it.
In a wonderful essay by Clayton Christensen titled “How will you measure your life”, he wonders how his class of Harvard classmates produced people who went to jail, destroyed the trust and lives of others, suffered through unhappy marriages and emotionally distant kids. Certainly none of them intended to end up that way.
His thesis is that career rewards are immediate and visible. Investments in family, relationships and longer term anchors of happiness take years, if not decades to bear fruit. Because of this, we often trade a hour with a child for a work email and over time, we stray from pursuing the things that give us true happiness. You can find the full essay on google.
I believe that an ‘average’ life, well-lived is an exceptional achievement. To be able to enjoy family, kids, the everyday joys of home, relationships, satisfaction of productive work and no major life or emotional devastation is not easy. So first, you have to disregard the consumerist messages and respect your goal and desire to have a well lived life. Next, realize that a lot of money in the bank does no make up for the sorrow of a kid who loses their way in life. That is where balance comes in, as do compromises and tradeoffs. We often feel guilty for investing in home, family and a modest lifestyle in exchange for more time, less money and peace of mind. That is wrong.
It is one thing to be able to define priorities. Allocating time according to those priorities is harder. Though the kids are still small, we talk to them often about the value of balance, simplicity, and the self confidence to resist outward messages to diminish their choices.
Let noone else define what balance should mean for you, and remember, an average well lived life is an exceptional achievement…the truest sign that you have won the race :).