Are You Struggling with Work Life Balance?

work life balance struggle successLast week, I was listening to the success episode on the TED Radio Hour podcast. I like this show because they bring on 5-6 speakers to go over the highlights of their TED talk. If one of the speakers sounds interesting, then I can look up the particular talk. In this episode, the focus was on what success means. One of the speakers, Alain de Botton, talked a bit about work life balance and he gave me something to think about.

I’m sure everyone here has struggled with work life balance at some point. We want to be successful at our job, but we also want to be successful outside of work as well. Work life balance promises that we can have it all. We just have to figure out how. Is this really true? I wanted to hear a success story from someone who has a good work life balance. Alain de Botton’s view is that you can’t be successful at everything and I’m inclined to agree with him.

Work Life Success?

When I first started working, I put in a lot of extra unpaid hours. I got promoted every few years and received regular raises. Work was the center of my existence because I didn’t have a lot of responsibilities outside of my job. I was single for a few years and my friends worked a lot, too. We went out on weekends and still had a lot of fun. In my early 20s, work life balance wasn’t very good because I gave most of my attention to work. However, that was fine because I didn’t have a family.

A few years later, I married Mrs. RB40 and work life balance was still pretty good. She was a mild workaholic so she didn’t mind me working late. We both liked being successful at our jobs. I cut back a bit at work to spend more time at home.

Fast forward to my late 30s and the picture is much different. I didn’t like my job anymore and I avoided extra hours like the plague. We had a baby and we wanted a good family life for him, for all of us. Mrs. RB40 still liked work, but she was not a workaholic anymore. We had a home that needed occasional work. We had rental properties. I was running a blog that required a few hours of attention every day. My mom needed a little help once in a while. Life got a lot more complicated as life tends to do. There are just not enough hours in a day to do everything. I’m sure every single one of us feels that way at some point.

I guess that’s modern life. Everyone is running ragged. Sometimes I feel like the only thing propping up society is coffee. That’s why Starbucks is so successful!

Many roles to fill

I decided to trim down a bit by quitting my job. Yes, it was drastic, but I got rid of the task I enjoyed the least and I’m now concentrating on things that matter more to me. Even without a job, life is still a big juggling act. There are just too many roles to fulfill. Let me share some of them.

Dad – I think I’m doing a great job as a dad. I spend a lot of time with RB40 Junior and we have a great relationship. He’s growing up so fast. I can’t believe he’s 4 already. He is a little rascal and it can be difficult to be patient with him. My dad didn’t spend much time with us when we were kids and we weren’t a high priority for him. Our relationship is pretty strained now, unfortunately. I want to build a stronger bond with my son and I think I’m succeeding.

Husband – I’m not doing very well as a loving husband. We haven’t been on a date since last fall when we went away to a hot spring resort. We really need to find a good babysitter so we can have some date nights without the third wheel. I need to make a major improvement here. We’re still a happy couple, but even good relationship needs maintenance. (Is maintenance the right word?)

Taking care of a home – I’m not doing great here either. I cook pretty often so at least I’m good there. I also vacuum pretty often. I’m slacking on the other chores and Mrs. RB40 is picking up some slack with laundry, dusting, doing dishes, and such.

Family CFO – I’m doing pretty well in this department. Our finances are going smoothly and we’re still saving and investing. No worries here.

Blogger – Honestly, this one is a struggle. It’s all I can do to write articles, answer emails, respond to comments, and keep the backend going. I could improve much more on monetization, social media, networking, and other facet of blogging. I’m satisfied for now because I’m putting being a dad ahead of this part time gig.

Son – My mom is with my brothers in California right now. She is going to split her time between my family and my brothers’. She needs help with signing up for healthcare, taxes, scheduling appointments, and various other things. She is relatively healthy so she doesn’t need a huge amount of my time at this point.

Landlord – Our rentals occasionally need repairs, yard work, and various other maintenance duties. I’m just fixing one thing at a time and it will take extra time to fix minor issues. I’m not the best landlord, but not the worst either.

As you can see, I’m still stretched pretty thin. How did I ever hold down a full time job? Anyway, my highest priorities right now are being a good dad, husband, and family CFO. I’m doing pretty well as a dad and family CFO, but I have a lot of room to improve as a husband. The other roles will take the back seat for now.

Alain de Botton pointed out that success is highly suggestible. Our definition of success comes from our parents, advertising, neighbors, friends, and many other sources. If you are trying to be successful at something, then make sure it’s your own definition and not someone else’s.

How is your work life balance? What’s your most successful role and are you proud of that?

Image credit: flickr by Alaskan Dude

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

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33 thoughts on “Are You Struggling with Work Life Balance?”

  1. Retirebyforty,

    Timely post, right now I am in the midst of switching jobs. This move will result in roughly a 30% pay cut but will enable a much better work-life balance. Which I believe to be worth it as after all life isn’t all about money.

    Thanks for sharing,

    The Money Spot

  2. I love hearing how people manage good work-life balance because it is something that is really important to me. After a lot of ups and downs (too many downs), I feel like I have finally found a situation that is working for me. Here are the things that I feel are working well for me:

    1.) I have a supportive spouse. My husband does his fair share of housework and is an active parent. I would prefer for him to do some things differently but I try not to correct him unless I feel it is really important. It is helpful to have two parents sharing the load.
    2.) I only work 40 hours a week. I work from 8am to 4:30pm with a half an hour lunch. Sometimes people comment that I am “going home early” and this annoys me but not as much as working extra hours does so I shrug and say “hey, I put my 8 hours in.” It helps that I am awesome at my job and my boss likes me.
    3.) I have a great parents and in-laws. When my daughter was born, my mom stayed with us four days a week and helped care for her. This was a huge help financially and emotionally since I knew I was getting quality day care. My MIL also helped care for our daughter for several weeks at time which my mom a week off.
    3.) I have a short commute. I only work 3 miles from my home so I have more time with my family.
    4.) When possible, I try to “buy time”. For me, this means that I do things like pay for a house-cleaner, a yard service, and pre-prepared food. I

  3. Sounds like you’re doing great with your balance Joe, especially with identifying your priorities, and giving them the most attention, even if you can’t get around to achieving everything in all your other roles.

    I’m definitely working just a little more than I’d like to be, but am still managing to make being a good dad and husband a high priority. My workplace is relatively flexible, so I take a lot of mornings or afternoons off to help and be with my family, then work early mornings or in the evenings when I need to, and I’m very happy working this way.

    I also find that trade-off of wanting to retire early vs getting a great balance today to be tricky, but given my daughter is 3 years old, and early retirement is at least 14 or 15 years away at best, I’m focusing on achieving a good balance today and not sacrificing too much time with her (or with my little boy when he’s born in 3 months time!).



  4. Maybe you could trade with a nearby family, so that you guys could switch weeks to have the kids each Friday. You’d have a date night with just you and your wife every other week.

    I’d say that you’re looking for some “husband and wife” time. It’s necessary for every relationship.

  5. Work life balance is very important. I have worked with people that have no work life balance where they work 14+ hours each day and sleep for like 3 or 4 hours each day. That’s not how I want to live my life. My wife has been really good in reminding me to have a work life balance.

  6. Work life balance and getting rich at a younger age is an oxymoron for most people. If you’re only willing to work 40 to 50 hours and want work life balance, then most people won’t become very wealthy and have no right to wine about their financial situation.
    Unless you’re one of the lucky few with influential connections, one has to be willing to outwork others. In a competitive capitalistic society like the US, the effort required to achieve success and the financial reward that comes with it requires some luck, but mostly is achieved with maniacal work ethic and ability to focus for long periods of time. Despite what naysayers claim, entrepreneurship and employers do tend to reward consistent merit performers who can deliver over long periods of time.

  7. Joe,

    The infamous work-life balance. Tough to attain, no doubt about it. It’s exactly because the scale was tilted too far in the work direction that I quit my decent-paying job in the auto industry to pursue writing.

    Sounds like you’re experiencing Parkinson’s law over there, which I am as well. It’s amazing to think that I was once able to work 50+ hours per week. I couldn’t even imagine it now!

    Best of luck with achieving balance over time.

    Best regards!

    • I think President Obama announced twice on tv for companies to stop working young people so hard. I also read somewhere twice that this generation of young workers is burning out sooner than the last. Think Silicon Valley/tech fields.

  8. Great post! I struggle with a work/life balance every second of my day. I tell myself to just keep moving forward at whatever pace I can accomplish for the day. If I can scratch even one thing off the “To Do” list then it’s been a productive day. Also, laughter is the best medicine for keeping me sane. I will never give up, and finally realized that is just may take a little longer than most.

    I have read many of your articles and want to thank you for giving me the feeling that I am not alone! You rock!

    Warmest Regards,


  9. Hi Joe,

    Nice theme to discuss and most of us that are facing everyday. I must say that I am able to manage my work life balance and especially now as the company I work for has initiated a new program, check it out on my blog under the category work and the post flexibility at work.

    The role I am the most proud off is to be a good husband, in second be successful in my job and last but not least be a good investor.

    Good weekend to all,

    Cheers, RA50

    I like to work early (7:00AM) and finishing early (5:00PM), that allow me the spend quality time with my wife.

    What role

  10. Joe, have been following your blog now for a bit, and I want to share our plan and then I want to see what you think about me quiting my job now, I am a nurse and I am totally burned out, I was ready to quit last week and my boss told me I was burned out and to take a week off and think about it, so I came home and my husband booked me a flight to Puerto Vallarta for 5 days just to take care of me and to really figure out if I want to quit my job or not still. I am 53 and my husband is turning 51 next week, we both in 4 years were planning on retiring he will have 30 years with his job and me 20 years with my federal job as a nurse for the military. so we were planning on moving to Puerto Vallarta. selling everything and going there with 2 suitcases. was planning on living off of savings account from 57 1/2 till I turn 59 1/2 and then I can dip into my tsp without penalities, a year and a half later, my husband can dip into his 457, then 2 1/2 years later at age 62 I would collect on my SS and then a year and a half later, my husbands social security at age 62, then at age 65 for me, I will draw on my FERS retirement and then a year and a half later, my husbands city retirement PERS at age 65…we will be dual citizens and will get our healthcare in mexico for 300 a piece a year and I have reached the medical there, being a nurse I feel very comfortable with the health care in mexico, we will not have insurance in the states..We are debt free, almost have house paid off completely, could pay it off now with what we have in savings account, the deal is, I really want to quit now, I don’t enjoy my job anymore and im totally burned out. the only difference it would make in my retirement check leaving now instead of 4 years from now would be 150 dollars a month, the dilemma is me quiting now, that we wont be able to put the 4000 a month extra into our savings account and then also, I will not be putting into my tsp since I will no longer be working. I know with me not working, the money I save on clothing, gas,convience foods because of working full time, I can cook so much more from scratch and have the time to shop around for best prices, with working full time, just kind of grab and go…everyone around me thinks im crazy with this economy to quit my job, and I know that I will be able to save 1000 a month with just my hubbys income, but that 4000 a month for the next 4 years, will build our nest egg even bigger…I really need help in making the decision, be miserable to make sure our next egg is bigger since we have to live on it until other things kick in, plus we would never go through it all and will be our traveling money and other funds, if I stayed working we would have 500,000 in our savings account to start off with in moving to Puerto vallarata, if I quit my job it would bring it down to 300,000 to start off with…with renting a place in Puerto Vallarta, and with expenses, if we gave ourselves a 30,000 a year budge in Puerto Vallarta we would actually live like king and queen at that budget, would you suck it up and be miserable or quit and really work at continuing to save with having the extra time, to cook and shop at a cheaper rate….all comments from others would be appreciated…thank you in advance

    • Can you take a 3 months sabbatical or something like that to think things over? It sounds like you really need a break.
      From what you wrote, I think you will be just fine financially if you quit now. You both have pension and social security backup. You have retirement saving and even quite a bit extra in your saving account. Your cost of living in retirement will be very reasonable in Mexico. I don’t see why you couldn’t call it a career now. Life is too short to live in misery.
      Can you write a full article for us with more details? I can post it on the main blog and you should get a lot of good feedback that way.

      • I would call it quits sooner than later. When the bad outweighs the good points of the job, it’s time to move on. Then you’ll realize how tired, stressed out, and unhappy you really were. Hindsight is 20/20. I would try to hold out until 70 for Soc. Security.
        Or at least to full age, 66. Sometimes, work is work, and a job’s just a job. Good luck!

  11. I just cut my work hours by 10% and went to a 4 day work week. I’m calling it early retirement. At this point, we have no debt outside of cars and are enjoying life. I make a good salary, so 10% isn’t going to hurt us.
    Now in my free time, I do work for a non for profit. It makes me happy and summer with no Fridays should be great!

    • That’s great! I wish that option is available for Mrs. RB40. That would make our lives much easier and more fun. Enjoy your Fridays off!

      • A four day work week is so very civilized. Three days off to recover from work is awesome. Everyone deserves that. What a better world it would be.

  12. I’ve turned down job opportunities that would pay more, but I realize the trade off is that I have an awesome work life balance at my current job. It’s low stress. I get 5 weeks off per year. I work 3 miles from home. I get flexible hours so I’m home at 4pm which means I get lots of time with my young kids. Maybe at some point the 10-20% bump I could get by leaving would overshadow those benefits, but for now it’s enough to keep me very satisfied.

    • That’s a great job! You are doing a great job with work life balance. Money isn’t everything. I think it’s more important to spend time with the young kids while they’re still malleable. They will be a huge pain when they’re older. 🙂 Have a great weekend!

  13. I woke up last year when I was doing some research on sudden retirement shock. I completed a survey that deducted years off you live due to stresses(work/family etc) affecting your life and I discovered that I should have been dead which was quite the wake up call! Since than I’ve left the corporate world, gotten closer to my family, worked on my finances etc. Things are starting to come together nicely now so hopefully I can gain some of those years back. The main thing I am struggling with now is health and nutrition. I need to adopt some type of program that will get me healthy, as I want to lose 38lbs by this Oct in time for my son’s wedding. This winter has been brutal, I was sick all Feb, but it’s finally warm outside and I told the Contessa this morning that we are going to start taking daily walks. Now if only I can get away from the chips and beer!

    • Oh wow, that’s not good. At least now you’re in a better position. Keep working on your weight. I know it’s really hard, but keep trying. Chips and beer are probably not the right diet for you. 🙂

    • I saw that when I was doing research for this article. It’s a good option for him because he’s set financially. When you’re in that position, you need to live life and enjoy it with your closest people.

  14. Even after reaching retirement, work-life balance is still an issue to resolve. And it didn’t come automatically to me.

    I consider it to be “work” to monitor my investments, do home repairs and chores, handle household finances (like doing the @#$% taxes!), run the errands, clean house and so on. “Life” on an ordinary day to me is hiking, blogging, outings with my wife, reading, taking courses, playing pc games, watching movies.

    I found that, without a set schedule and plan, “work” would insidiously creep to take over my day. It always seems easier to just go to the next item on the chore list than to tear myself away and actually take the effort to have fun. (Huh??) But I solved that conundrum by setting a schedule and a limit for work.

    Now, my work time goes from 9am to 12;30pm, and from 5:30pm to 7pm. That’s 5 hours a day for work. The rest of the day is for FUN and LIFE. And that’s how I’ve arrived at my work life balance solution.

    • “Work” really have a tendency to take over. Setting a schedule is a great idea. I still need about 28 hours in a day, though. Most of that will be used to catch up on sleep especially on this daylight saving week.

  15. Thanks for the honesty. I too lack in some areas of life because I put a priority on other things. Being good at everything is certainly a balancing act and a tough one at that.

    I wholeheartedly agree about defining your own success. It is too easy to fall victim to advertising that says success is having a new BMW in the driveway and a huge house. To me, success is getting to not have to work for someone else ASAP. I want the financial freedom to work a job I want to work, on my schedule and do all of the things that are important to me.

    • That’s eye opening. My version of success may not fit the standard mold, but I’m very proud of it. The people that I care about most are happy with our lives.

  16. I think sometimes we strive to balance too many things at once in our lives. I think that is partially what hinders a lot of us from having the work-life balance that we want to have. I think Mrs. Frugalwoods said it best-let go of the need to be perfect and you will feel better.

  17. I completely agree that it’s not possible to succeed at everything and I actually find this to be a pretty liberating thought. Once I let go of the desire to “be perfect,” I was able to focus my energies on the things that matter the most to me (and that I’m best at). It has been another way for me to simplify my life and figure out what I’m actually passionate about.

    Sounds to me like you’re doing a great job of balancing all your various responsibilities–just get out on a date with your wife ;).

  18. Joe, you are doing a phenomenal job! Wish you were my neighbor. I’d babysit for you!
    Just the kid alone is a full time job. That and housework can be lonely and thankless (there, I said it) at times. But everyone else is doing it too. Once RB40Jr. is in school full time soon, you’ll have more time, freedom, choices. Keep up the great work. And get a babysitter & backup (a high school honor student w/good references is a good start) to get out for a couple hours w/Mrs. RB40. Thanks again for your excellent, honest blog.

    • I’m not doing very well with the housework. A guy standard of cleanliness isn’t very high and Mrs. RB40 steps in to do quite a few things. We really need a good babysitter. Have a great weekend.

  19. My most successful role is helping people create a great work-life balance. And yes, I am certainly proud of it.
    Here are several passages from my book “The Lazy Person’s Guide to Success” (that sold over 110,000 copies and was published in 11 languages) to help you create a great work-life balance:

    “You will have a much easier go around in life when you stop following the herd. Your chances for a full, relaxed, satisfying, and happy life will tend to increase in direct proportion to how much you are out of step with the rest of society. Indeed, the more unconventional and eccentric you are, the better.”

    “People who observe no limits in attempting to get work done aren’t nearly as smart as they think. Hard work can be done by any fool. But to be highly productive and still have plenty of time to rest and play — this is where true genius resides.”

    “Never mistake hard work for success about to happen. A lot of hard work is wasted on things that have nothing to do with making a positive difference in this world. Trying to achieve success solely through hard work is like trying to reach the north pole by heading south. You may eventually get there, but it will take a hundred times the
    energy, time, and sacrifice that it should take. ”

    “Consider this carefully: If you are working more than eight hours a day, you are in the wrong job. Either that — or you are doing it wrong.”

    “Three ways to handle a task fast:
    1: Do it yourself.
    2: Hire an expert to handle it for you.
    3: Decide that it isn’t worth doing and strike it off your to-do list.”

    “Why waste so much time, energy, and money trying to buy the biggest house that your credit rating will allow? Truth be known, a small house can hold as much happiness as a large one. Sometimes it will hold even more.”

    “When you want something badly, work at giving up your desire for it. You will find that not wanting something is as good as having it. And a lot less trouble.”

    “If your success is not achieved according to your ideals, if your success is impressive to society but does not resonate with your psyche and spirit, then it is not true success.”

    “Be certain about this law of the Universe: Success and prosperity will elude you as long as you are doing what’s wrong for you. And needless to say, success and prosperity will come easily when you are doing what’s right for you.”

    “Refuse to be intimidated by the adage: ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing well.’ This is one of the most ridiculous statements ever made. Fact is, most things worth
    doing aren’t worth your best efforts. There are just a few really important things that are worth doing well. After that, a greater number of things are worth doing adequately. Even more things are worth doing in the most haphazard fashion
    possible just to get by. Of course, most things aren’t worth doing at all — and are best left for the misfits of this world to pursue.”

    “Keep focused and innovative. Occupy yourself, one project at a time. Make sure it is the right project. Success isn’t a game won by whoever does the most. It’s won by whoever knows the right one important thing to pursue.”

    “Slow down and truly live a little. The most important time to stop and watch a sunset is when you think that you don’t have time for it. ”

    “Relish life’s small joys. It’s all too easy to miss the small realizable pleasures while in search of the elusive big ones. ”

    One note: You may think that I am trying to sell you a copy of “The Lazy Person’s Guide to Success”. Not so. The book is no longer available in its print edition and I have no intentions to make it available as an ebook. Why not? Because my work-life balance is way too important to me.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 280,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • I haven’t read that book. Too bad it’s out of print and my library doesn’t have it either. Can’t you hire someone to do the legwork and make it available as an ebook? 🙂
      Best wishes,


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