Updated: Jun 6, 2021
You don’t have to look hard to find content on “work-life” balance. This topic of balance leads to so many other discussions on culture, country of origin, value systems, and so on. You see, our perception of a proper work-life balance begins long before we cash our first paycheck. It begins at home.
I was raised on a small family farm in Georgia. The “Lower Forty Farm” was home to our grandparents, my parents, my siblings – and just up the road a bit were my aunt, uncle, and cousins. We also shared our homeplace with chickens, pigs, cows, horses, rabbits, quail – and a fully stocked lake with bass, brim, and catfish. Each day brought a new adventure. Having a strong work ethic wasn’t an option in our family – everyone pitched in, everyone worked. We were eating our own homegrown fruits and vegetables before the organic food movement was even a thing. Free range chickens and grass fed beef were the most cost effective options for us – they were in our backyard! If we wanted to watch TV at night with our family, we learned the art of multi-tasking, shucking corn or shelling peas while we watched M.A.S.H. or Dallas. The family cooked together and the family cleaned together.
As kids, we learned quickly to avoid the mention of “boredom” around our parents or grandparents – that would have been a one-way ticket to Choreville! We would roam the land and make trails in the woods. Our imaginations ran wild. We would act out scenes from the Boxcar Children books, using an old rusty cattle car as the backdrop. We would pretend we were at war with Russia; it was the 80’s and Cold War fallout drills in our schools were a catalyst for war playtime. We would fashion bunkers in the low, wooded areas. The amount of engineering and interior design that went into those bunkers was impressive.
Home taught me how to work hard and use my creativity and imagination. I wouldn’t trade anything for the skillsets I honed on Denny Road. But what began as good lessons for life eventually got twisted and out of control. As I progressed through adulthood and began my career in the “real world,” my childhood lessons on work ethic turned into an unhealthy mindset. I believed that using my time for anything other than hard, productive work was lazy. That sort of mindset can leave you fractured and guilt-ridden, not able to enjoy slow moments. And do you know what’s most ironic? Thinking you can work yourself into success at a wide-open pace ends up having the opposite of the desired effect. True success isn’t born from burnout because even if you achieve a goal, you won’t be able to enjoy it. You may win the account, make the sale, get the promotion, land the deal – but at what cost?
For quite some time I had felt the nudge to step away from my career. There was a knowing deep in my spirit that it was the right time to close the chapter. But I had a million reasons to stay and keep pressing on. Good people, good work, and the sense of being a part of something big were driving factors. I had some much needed time for reflection over the Christmas holiday last year. It was then that I let my mind wander back home – back to Denny Road.
I thought about my PawPaw, a hardworking man who retired early because of his own strong work ethic and thrifty spirit. Once he retired from his career our little farm became a “working farm,” alive with animals and gardens and little adventurers (aka grandchildren). Hindsight truly is 20/20 and I was reminded that as hard as PawPaw worked, he also achieved balance. Every Sunday was sabbath in our family – a true sabbath filled with church, family, home cooked meals, and rest. During the week, he’d take time to sit under a shade tree and read the newspaper while the cows enjoyed a meal. He would meet friends for a biscuit and coffee in the mornings. He would drive to the local post office and the Depot Farm & Feed store. He took the time to visit with people he encountered; he knew them by name and knew their stories.
My MeMe was by my PawPaw’s side for over 50 years before he passed. I knew I learned of work ethic from her, too, but I see now that she was also modeling balance. She was a list maker – and still is. She methodically makes her way down a list of tasks each day and takes her time. She doesn’t operate in the gear of “rush” that seems to rule my life. When she showed us how to pick blueberries or muscadines it wasn’t just about filling up buckets with bounty. She used that time to teach us about the plants and how to yield the best results. Each moment was a teachable moment with no rushing through the lessons.
When I think of people in my life that have true joy and peace, my PawPaw and MeMe are at the top of that list. And I think it’s no coincidence that they had the whole “work-life balance” thing figured out. They didn’t need a self-help book of the moment or a podcast to tell them to put their faith and family first, then work out everything else.
And thus a decision was made. I would resign from my position as Vice President of Marketing and go back home. Literally and metaphorically. Back home in the sense that it was time to stop traveling so much. Parenting across FaceTime in the modern age is a nice perk, but not preferred. Real, in-person, dinner table conversations with my family are high on my priority list now. Also, back home to the lessons of my youth. I’m enjoying the space and time to create again, using the skills I’ve gained over two decades of working to help entrepreneurs succeed. Dialing back the pace of my life has actually allowed me to be more productive, more focused, more creative, and more joyful.
I wonder – what’s your Denny Road?
When or where was the seed of creativity and imagination planted in your heart?
You see, it’s in going back to the start – going back home – that we get back to our true selves. And that’s the first step toward balance.