I am, by nature, a high-stress, worry-prone kind of guy.
After 23 years of marriage, my wife would readily acknowledge that, too.
Even though I have mellowed a bit as I've grown older, I still fret about almost everything. And much of that worrying is related to guilt.
I feel guilty about not spending enough time with my wife and kids, as well as other family members and friends, despite the efforts I've made to improve in that area of my life. I feel guilty about not accomplishing enough at work, though I think I'm doing my best. I feel guilty about not working harder on my physical health, even with the progress I've made in the last two years. I feel guilty about not doing enough to support my church, although I try to give as much as I can.
I could go on and on.
These nagging feelings of guilt are a significant part of my life, but I've mostly learned to deal with them in positive ways. For example, I'm usually able to channel guilt into productivity and work as opposed to debilitating inaction.
These thoughts came to mind as I pondered an email I received last week from a reader named Mike.
I've written about Mike before. He's been a friend since middle school, and I value his wisdom and insights. His latest email talked about a recent job change he made and the impact it has had on his work-life balance.
"I have worked 26 years in the same industry," Mike wrote, speaking of his life as a newspaper reporter and editor. "In year 26, I joined a family owned company. So, for 25 years I was in an extremely sterile, uncaring corporate structure. All good jobs. All with learning opportunity. But the corporation always had to be No. 1 on the priority list. I accepted that and grew comfortable with that."
His new job is different, though. Mike said his new employer puts families first.
"I like that," he wrote. "I wish I could have found this earlier. But, I find it difficult at times to understand the slower pace and lack of urgency.
"Many co-workers should be doing more work. Some flat-out refuse to handle an assignment because 'it's my wife's birthday' or 'Johnny (who is second string and won't play) has a JV football game.' The boss is fine with this. I struggle with it. We could be doing more and better work. I feel I am cheating customers and myself if I don't try to do my best.
"Again, I really like this current environment and plan to stay and grow. Anyone out there who is (or used to be) like me? Any advice?"
This is a fascinating question to me.
As I've researched and written about work-life balance for the past several years, I've come across many blogs, articles and columns about the guilt people feel as they try to build balanced lives.
Many of these pieces talk about working moms who feel guilty that they're not there when their children get home from school. Or working dads who feel guilty when a presentation at the office forces them to miss a child's baseball game.
While the specifics are different, these articles always talk about the guilt of missing family due to work.
But Mike is talking about the opposite.
Even though he is glad to be working for a more family oriented company, and he seems to be enjoying that change of focus, he is struggling with the slower pace, with worry that he and his co-workers aren't giving value for money.
I can absolutely relate to this. When I was working in journalism, the job always felt like a 24/7 proposition. Especially during my last months at the News, when I was managing editor for deseretnews.com, the constant deadlines associated with online journalism meant I worked many hours from home.
I was missing too much of my children's younger years, and I knew it. I had to make a change.
When I did, it was like walking into a new world. My evenings are almost always free now, so I'm able to spend more time with my wife and kids and do more to help around the house. I rarely have to work on weekends or holidays. And even when I'm at work, the pace is usually much slower than it was back in the newsroom.
But that last part of the change has been hard for me at times. I've had the same thoughts Mike identified in his email. I've felt guilty that, even though I really am trying to do as much as I can, surely I must not be doing enough if I'm not constantly under intense, deadline-related stress.
I know part of this is due to my natural tendencies. But I would also guess that Mike and I aren't the only people to have such thoughts now and then.
That's why I think this issue is worth exploring. As more companies and employees focus their attention on flexible work arrangements and work-life balance, this is bound to be something we will need to address.
For years, many people have felt that the scales have been tipped too far in the direction of work when it comes to finding balance in life. But if we now tip them too far the other way, won't we still harbor those nagging feelings of imbalance?
I'd like to hear your thoughts on this subject. Has your quest for better work-life balance ever led to thoughts of guilt related to your job? Have you heard of others who have struggled with such things? Do you think these concerns are legitimate, or are they just passing feelings due to changes in circumstance? How have you dealt with this situation, and what advice would you give to others who are struggling with it?
Please send me an email or leave a comment online with your ideas, and I'll share them in a future column.