Work/Life Balance

September 14, 2010

The software field is a demanding one. My wife has referred to herself as a “software widow” during those times when I’ve been heavily involved in a demanding project. She understands my career choice and understands that sometimes I need to shift greater attention to my job. I’ve always viewed this as both a necessary evil and an opportunity to build greater knowledge and expertise in new technologies or some business-related aspect of my job. This gain, however, comes at the expense of personal/family time.

Sometimes the price can be higher than you expect because the project becomes more involved and drags out far longer than anyone anticipated. It's easy enough to figure out when things are going on for too long; I get little signs, like my wife begging me to put my computer down on a Saturday morning to attend our daughter’s soccer game. (This is a true story from several years ago.) As a manager, I keep a watchful eye out on our staff and insist that they take some time off if I feel that they are pushing themselves too hard.

Most of the time, we're in control over our work/life choices. There are times, however, when life does the balancing for us. I’ve experienced some major challenges this past year that were out of my control, and those that I work with have been very supportive as I dealt with Life's curve-balls. To all of them: Thank you, I deeply appreciate your thoughts, concern, and support.

I’m still setting direction for our products, managing the development staff, and I continue to devote my own time reading books about software development and management as well as maintaining this blog. But it hasn’t been easy. I’ve been fortunate to have built up a good backlog of blog entries that get posted automatically; this has helped me keep this blog active during some difficult spells. On the work front, there have been times when my colleagues have had to fill in some gaps or otherwise work around my absence because I’ve needed some unanticipated time off.

The first half of the year involved my father – he started the year off being hospitalized with a collapsed lung. This started some serious family discussion and action about putting my parent’s house up for sale and drawing up blueprints for an in-law apartment at my house. Before we could get my father to commit to selling his house he ended up in the hospital with another collapsed lung. Fortunately my wife was able to work with her brother – who owns a woodworking company – and get the blueprints drafted for the in-law apartment.

After six-plus weeks of hospitalization and an evaluation of his condition in a Boston hospital in hopes that an experimental procedure might help, my father passed away. The entire episode was an emotional drain, compounded by the fact that my parents had made no preparations for their deaths. During this period I found that my mental faculties were reduced in ways that I haven’t experienced before; it was all I could do to focus on making the funeral arrangements for my father.

We’re are now in the process of building an apartment for my mother, and her house is up for sale. I the interim, I’ve been pulling double-duty maintaining her property and my own. During this time my mother has been staying with us in a room that we set up as a temporary arrangement. Needless to say, my wife and I have been dealing with a great deal of change and demands of our time.

This has turned into a major hurdle due to an unexpected medical condition that I ran into a little over a week ago. The day after returning from a business trip with a few others from our office – a trip that involved my driving from Connecticut to Maine – I left work thinking that I was going to stop by the grocery store to pick up a few things and then head out to watch a local high school football game (my wife is a cheering coach, and I enjoy a good game of football). While in the store, I had a moment where my vision went fuzzy and the world quickly closed in on me. I didn’t have time to even mention to someone that something was wrong; it was lights-out, and fast.

I woke up in an ambulance with someone telling me that I had experienced a seizure. I also felt like crap. The next day I was very tired and slept on and off for most of the day. I took some time off during the middle of the week so that the doctors could run some tests on me, but so far they haven’t discovered what caused my seizure. This had never happened to me before, and so far they’ve determined that I’m not epileptic and that no tumor is present. All they know is that my blood sugar dropped – fast.

I’ve been very healthy for my entire adult life, rarely missing work because of illness. And I’ve exercised regularly for most of my life – I had even gone running the same morning of the day that I had my seizure. I admit that I felt a little tired when I left the office that day, but I thought it was due to the effects of travelling and working, plus maintaining my running. I wasn’t expecting an ambulance ride, but I got one. I feel fortunate that nothing happened while I was driving myself and a couple of others back to Maine!

Some things in life are unpredictable, and you have to roll with the punches. I’ve had to rigorously prioritize and focus my attention all year long, and it looks like I’m going to have to continue prioritizing, planning, and now coordinating a little more, since I can’t drive by state law for at least three months after having a seizure. This will place a strain on my family, which I will try to minimize. And ultimately this does drive home the need for work/life balance.