Global Leadership Speaker and Premier Work-Life Balance Speaker
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What matters most? All About Balance, Part II

My first day on the job at The Miami Herald was an absolute shock. My boss really laid everything on nice and thick as she courted me in the hiring process, but the minute I got there, she informed me that I’d be working some weeknights, every Saturday day shift and, gee, when I wasn’t working until 12, I’d be expected to hang until at least about 8 — even if I was done with my work.

I went there when I was only in the third week of my marriage. At a time when I should have been enjoying life as a newlywed, I was being tested to see how loyal I was to the whims of a newspaper with insatiable demands.

It didn’t seem fair. My work was important to me — extremely important to me. I was passionate about it, and I delivered huge front-page stories. But, I had a relationship that I wanted to tend to. I’d just moved to town and wanted to get out and make friends and learn about my new city. I’d always turn my stories in on time — at 6:30 p.m. — but that didn’t matter. Nobody left that early. Nobody.

So, I would sit there, watching the clock and wondering when I could leave. I was done with my work! Other reporters were turning in their stories late, so why couldn’t I benefit from my always on-time performance and go home to my husband?

A few weeks into my tenure there, editors from The Palm Beach Post invited me to lunch and offered me a job with better assignment with better money and much better hours. I turned them down, thinking I owed something to The Herald. The editor of The Post told me that editors at The Herald wouldn’t think twice about cutting me if it benefited them. I didn’t believe them.

A month later — just days before Christmas — the managing editor came to our bureau and announced the paper was shutting the Palm Beach operation down. Half of us would be spared, half would not. I survived the cut. The ones who didn’t make it were the veterans who didn’t have the same paranoia that us newcomers felt as we tried to impress our bosses. I thought about what that editor at The Post had said, and it was so very true.

I was transferred to another bureau and worked weekends and wasted more hours just sitting there late because my bosses wanted me to be part of the team. The politics of those offices were so brutal that I routinely saw one editor setting up the next in hopes of getting rid of a potential competitor. The entire time I worked there, I was on edge. I had no time for my husband or myself.

My first anniversary was approaching and I knew they would never let me out in time for a celebratory dinner out. I knew it. So, I called in sick. I had to take a sick day in order to make sure I could go out at 7 p.m. with my husband.

When I finally took a vacation, we flew to Greece for two weeks. I still have the journal where I was wrestling with the pulls of my work versus the true priorities in my life — God, relationship, family, friends and humanity. I closed it saying, “When I die, it will mean far more to me to have people say that I loved and was loved than I really knew how to write a 12-inch story. I need to learn to live my life for the big picture.” All that wisdom, and I was just 28 years old. Notice work wasn’t even on the list. It was important to me, but it wasn’t central to my being. I came home from that trip and started sending resumes out. A month later, I was gone.

That awakening stayed with me and centered me whenever work would start to take over my life. Work is work. It is exciting and challenging and mandatory. But, it is work.

So, as you start to contemplate the balance issue, ask yourself what matters most in your life. What are the five or six “pulls” that you have to honor, and what do they mean to your world? If you only had one week on earth, how would you spend your time?

The “What matters most?” question will always serve to give you perspective and help you to decide how to divvy up your time. Some people write a personal mission statement that incorporates their personal priorities so they can always check in easily to see if they have veered off course. Before you wear yourself out trying to juggle everything, go within to make sure you are juggling what really matters to you.

Fawn Germer is the best-selling author of four books and speaks to corporations and organizations about courageous and creative leadership strategies.

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