MY WORK-LIFE BALANCE SHEET
I thought it was going to be easy, a no-brainer. A guy’s not spending enough time with his family because he’s always at the office, well shove the office and work at home. It seemed like a simple mathematical equation, like if Suzie has three apples and Billy has 5 apples but gives one to Suzie and puts it on a train heading southbound from Penn Station ten minutes before a northbound train leaves Chicago for Newark, which conductor will be promoted first? As you can see, the “simple” part of that mathematical equation went out the window with Suzie’s apples, and my plan for Nirvana went off the rails. Before I knew it, I was on a very different train, headed straight to What Was I Thinking station.
Who wouldn’t be drawn by the allure of working out of your house? Bye-bye getting up early, bye-bye being stuck in hideous rush-hour traffic jams. Hello reading the Journal while watching The Price is Right, hello getting used to myself in nothing but a bathrobe and jock strap. Actually, that was one of the first pitfalls of my new at-home lifestyle. You sit splayed out in your office chair in a robe and a jock, well, you’re gonna scratch yourself (if you’re a guy anyway). And before you know it, that has a subtle effect on the way you conduct yourself on the phone. You get a little lazy, a little too off-the-cuff. I’m an executive recruiter, and very soon phrases like “this client’s skill set is right in line with the vision of your company” started coming out like “aaayy, listen, ‘dis guy’s a freakin’ stand-up guy, you don’t hire him you deserve everything you freakin’ get.”
Then there’s trying to conduct a business call in the same house with a willful three year old who doesn’t understand the meaning of a closed door session. I can only hope that client from last month is reading this, because it will serve as an explanation of why our conversation went something like: “Listen, John, I respect your position on this, but we’re gonna need a starting salary of—did my little pookah make a doodie? Thank you for sharing that with me, angel heart, but daddy’s in the middle of a—hello…? Hello…?
The main impetus for the working-at-home model began with my dear wife. Too many times I had stayed late at the office, not realizing that I was subconsciously avoiding intimacy. Well, I say subconsciously, but usually I would walk in to find my long-cold dinner now covered in tin foil on the kitchen counter and say “sorry I couldn’t get here sooner, sweetie, but I was avoiding intimacy.” So, yeah, we’ve got some communication issues to work through, but we know there’s a strong foundation of real love. And my spending an extra ten hours a day at home was going to be the spackle in that foundation. Except that I’m an idiot, and I’m so used to getting my way at work, and using management-seminar buzzwords to make it happen, that I don’t realize I’m at home from 9 to 5. It didn’t matter how many times I said “honey, I think we need to “smarticize” this relationship,” or “let’s talk about your three main areas of under-achievement,” for some reason I only got cold stares. Finally, when I threatened to re-purpose her, she threw a plate at me. Hey, it could have been worse. It only nicked the client who had just come into the front hall to meet with me. And he was so distracted he didn’t notice I was only wearing a jock strap under the robe.
So I’ve been asking the people at my old firm to hire me back, but they’re not sure if they can accommodate me yet. They brought a new young guy in who’s willing to work by the hour with no health insurance. I thought he was a sap, until I realized that’s the same deal I have now. I’ll take some comfort in the fact that he can’t show up for work in his bathrobe. Plus, he’s probably in denial about how much he’s using work to avoid intimacy. Me, I’ve moved past all that. My family needs me, and damn it, I’m going to be there for them, 24/7, 365 days a year. When my wife heard me say that, she quipped, “is that a threat or a promise?” At least it sounded like a quip.
This Week’s Tom Stern Top Three Takeaways
1.A long ride in the car to and from work may not be a completely viable reason for giving up your office job. Dear Lord, I miss my Books on Tape!
2.There is no such thing as a quick fix. One can work at home to be near the family, only to discover that one actually needs a little time away from them during the week. And that one has just cut off that line of escape completely, inexorably, horribly. Somebody help me.
3.When all is said and done, there really is something about lazily waking up in the same place where you will work each and every day. And that something is a stunning awareness of the importance of showering.