Work/life balance: the ongoing challenge. / by David Baird

With the imminent arrival of my second daughter, I’ve been thinking about work-life balance a lot more recently. Being a 21st century kind of chap, I did a quick google search of “work life balance NZ” which yielded over 81 million results. It’s good to see I’m not the only one interested in getting it right! It really is a balancing act, and something that I continually struggle with. I have this in common with most of the working world, and it seems like no one really has it figured out. There are a lot of opinions out there, however, and being a small business operator adds some unique factors into the mix.

Some experts and entrepreneurs will tell you to make your work your life, thus obliterating the need for balance between the two aspects. I see this as bringing the two things together, such as bringing your family into the business, or to make your life goals ones that can be achieved through a successful business.  While my 18 month old often expresses her desire to come and help me at work, it will be a few years before she is able to do the invoicing on her own. Also, she’s rubbish at Photoshop, and my teenaged boys are a little busy with NCEA to carry my lighting kit on location for me. So that plan is less than ideal for my circumstances.

Another suggestion from the experts is to ensure that the balance between one’s business and the other aspects of one’s life is dynamic. Attempting to maintain a static balance means that both the business and the family will suffer from a lack of flexibility. This is something my family experienced recently with a sick toddler and a sick wife, and an unexpected absence of grandparents to help look after them. I found myself working from home while the patients slept, and putting some other work on hold to take care of them while they were awake. The ability to make my own hours in this way is a tremendous advantage in running my own business, and wouldn’t be possible were I working for an employer who required my constant presence throughout the day.

The nature of the photography business means that some of my work falls outside the traditional 9-5 working day and I am often shooting jobs on the weekends or in the evenings. Even when I’m not shooting, many evenings are spent at the computer replying to emails, processing images, organising shoots, or marketing my business. Trying to get this done while doing my fair share of cooking, dishes, washing, and putting children to bed is a constant balancing act. Sometimes the idea of working days and devoting my evenings completely to my family is appealing, but then I remember what that would entail: losing the freedom to do school camps and music lessons and swimming lessons and walking the dog on a sunny day, and all those things that I love to do with my family. Working in an industry where I can book jobs in the evenings and weekends means that I can take that time during the day without sacrificing actual working hours.

I can imagine that many people in a situation like mine might struggle with getting themselves motivated. Being a person in charge of my own business means that I am in charge of my own motivation as well. I know some people require an external source of inspiration to get stuff done, happily I am not one of those people. Because I love photography so much, I rarely struggle with working. Admittedly sometimes the duller aspects of running a small business (accounts, anyone?) take a little more prodding to get done, but overall my love of photography and desire to create a good life for my family means that I have sufficient intrinsic motivation to maintain a steady work life.

Because we work to live, rather than living to work, don’t we? Now we’ve reached the 21st century we understand that life is more than making more and more money until we die. Especially for working fathers, society is evolving to the point where we are realising that things like achievement, pride, and success are measured in whole life terms, not just in our monthly employment appraisals and yearly accounts. We’ve seen generations of men suffer the consequences of focusing on work over the rest of their lives, and we are aware of the cost of making more money. The fact that there is even a discussion about work-life balance for men indicates a massive shift in social priorities and I’m happy I get to be a part of the conversation.

I don’t think that I’ll ever get the balance between work and life just right, and when I think I do, circumstances change, necessitating a shift in my priorities. Being a small business owner means that the responsibility rests on my shoulders alone. The other side of that coin, however, is that I have so much more freedom to dictate my hours which is vital for helping balance my work and my life. I’m incredibly lucky to have made a career in an industry I love, and the continual juggling of family, the business, and other responsibilities is a small price to pay.