The 3 Keys to Surviving Major Life Transitions

Originally in ForbesYou might think that the most important work a financial advisor can do is related to allocating a client’s investment portfolio, or perhaps helping secure a timely insurance policy or drafting the optimal estate plan. In fact, their most important work is done when clients are in the midst of navigating life’s major transitions.

I have very recently undergone two of these major life events — a job change and a move — in the span of five months. Crazy, right? Who would willingly subject themself to two of life’s most stressful changes within such a small window of time? Fortunately, I had at my disposal three keys to surviving major life transitions, and I’d like to share them with you:

Key #1: Flexibility

“Blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken.” — Albert Camus 

In February, I left the company I loved after seven years of life-changing work to lock arms with a national alliance of financial advisory pioneers dedicated to the practice of “building relationships by doing the right thing.” But in order to build a new and rewarding relationship with them, I had no choice but to sever some relationships with others. 

The financial industry has a reputation for being an “old boys club,” known for paternalism and the marginalization of women.  Unfortunately, there’s a lot of truth to it.  I enjoyed talking to Kim Palmer at U.S. News and World Report in preparation for her article, Where Are The Female Financial Planners?

Women financial advisors

Date: June 4, 2014
Appearance: Where Are The Female Financial Planners?
Outlet: U.S. News & World Report
Format: Other

Make Your Career Move An Easy Job

 

Originally published CNBCYou know what has to be done, but it doesn’t make it any easier. You’ve done all the research, asked all the questions and mulled over your options, and you know that moving on from your current company is the right thing to do.

You wince, imagining the look on the face of your boss and co-workers when you tell them. You’re no longer an insider, but an outsider or—worse—a competitor. Even your relationship as friends could be compromised. It’s stressful for everyone, but especially for you because ultimately it’s your choice.

As you go through your morning routine on the day you’re delivering the news to your company, every step seems more pronounced than it typically does. Maybe it’s because you recognize it could be the last time you’ll go through the paces exactly like this. Or maybe it’s because the adrenaline has already notched up in anticipation of the discussions you’re about to have with your boss and colleagues.

Indeed, along with marriage, divorce, death and personal injury, changing jobs is consistently ranked as one of the most stressful things a person can do. That stress can be substantially reduced, however, if you’re better prepared for what comes next. Here are three ways to make the most of your job transition:

1. Leave well. “It’s more important to leave well than it is to start well,” a good friend once told me. And it’s true. You’ve already made a good impression on your new company—you got the job! But while you’re heading on to new and exciting adventures, your former employer is left to deal with the rejection and cleanup from your departure.

Make it easier by offering to stay on for a reasonable period of time, but not longer. In most cases, shorter is better for all parties, as it reduces the awkwardness and hastens the healing.

Part of leaving well is preparing to deal with impulsive counterattacks mounted consciously or unconsciously by your former co-workers. Especially if you brought or maintained client relationships, the words “I’m leaving” may magically transform you from friend to foe—but let that be their choice, not yours. Take the high road whenever possible.

2. Don’t leave anything behind. Along with your personal Swingline stapler and the letter opener your parents gave you, don’t leave your 401(k) or any other transferable benefits behind.

Specifically regarding your 401(k) or other comparable plan, you typically have three options, depending on the design of the plan you’re leaving and the plan your new company offers. The first option is to leave it there; I rarely recommend this unless you’re in love with the plan investment options and pay close attention to them.

Option two is to transfer the old 401(k) into the new plan, if they allow it. This gives you the benefits of consolidation and, while rarely advisable, the ability to borrow from your plan—a provision not available in old retirement plans or IRAs.

For most, the sensible choice is to aggregate the newly antiquated 401(k) plan with other prior plans in the form of a direct rollover to an IRA. In this case, you are not limited to the investment options in the new 401(k)—options that are notoriously mediocre. Be certain to check all the right boxes to ensure that your rollover is not a taxable event.

It’s also important to take stock of any company benefits that are transferable. Although they are nearly extinct, pension plans of various sorts accrued during your tenure may do nothing for you now but could be meaningful in the future.

One client recently had a premonition that she’d left a small pension behind from a previous job. I encouraged her to call the company’s human resources department, and indeed, there was $9,000 sitting in a plan earning 3 percent per year that she can’t touch for another 15 years.

If you’re blessed enough to have annual income in excess of your saving and spending needs, you may have a qualified or non-qualified deferred compensation plan to handle. And while also rare, there are occasions in which group benefits—such as life, disability income or long-term care insurance through your company—can also be traversed to private policies with the vendor.

3. Make the most of your fresh start. Nobody’s perfect—including you. But as the saintly image of yourself you’ve been promoting to your new company starts to settle into something closer to reality, you do have an opportunity to trade some bad habits for good ones.

Take advantage of this clean slate by embracing the time-management method that’s worked so well for your friend, or finally start using a system to seize control of your email inbox.

Develop a healthier rhythm of life and work. Be careful not to overextend yourself at the beginning of the new gig, lest you set expectations you’ll never be able to live up to.

Make wise choices with your new benefits package. Increase your 401(k) contribution to the level you know you should be saving, and put sufficient time into really understanding the new investment options and determining the optimal mix for you. Don’t forget to add beneficiaries to your new 401(k) plan and any group life-insurance coverage in the new benefits package.

As you review your group benefits—especially health, life and long-term disability-income insurance—be sure to actually understand them and acknowledge whether or not you should be supplementing them privately. (You can be almost sure that the base level of free life and disability-income insurance is insufficient.)

Consider opening your mind to a high-deductible health plan, which gives you the option to utilize a Health Savings Account (HSA). Many assume this is too complicated or costly, especially if you have a young family, but even in that case, this can be a great way to make nearly all of your household medical expenses tax deductible.

While certainly stressful, a job change navigated well can be an amazing personal and professional launchpad—especially when you leave on good terms, don’t leave anything behind and take full advantage of the fresh start.

If you enjoyed this post, please let me know on Twitter at @TimMaurer, and if you’d like to receive my weekly post via email, click HERE.

Tim Maurer, a certified financial planner, is director of personal finance at the BAM Alliance and an adjunct faculty member at Towson University. He has co-written two books with best-selling author Jim Stovall. Their most recent release is “The Ultimate Financial Plan: Balancing Your Money and Life.” 

 

Allocating Your Most Valuable Asset—You

Originally in ForbesWhat is your most valuable asset? Your home? Not likely, even back in 2006. Your 401(k)? Doubtful, even when it was 2007. No, if you’re not yet glimpsing your retirement years, it’s likely that your biggest asset is you—and not just metaphorically.

Let’s say you’re only 30, with a degree or two and some experience under your belt. You’re making $70,000 per year. If you only get 3% cost-of-living-adjustment raises, you will crest a million in aggregate earnings in just the next 13 years.

Over the course of the next 40 years, over which you’ll almost surely continue working, you’ll earn more than $5.2 million.

Survey Shows Students Are Dumping Top Colleges Due To High Cost

The disproportionate rise in the cost of college relative to the cost of everything else is not news, but a new survey shows that college students are dumping their top choices for education based on price. Have we finally reached the tipping point?

Well, I’m a planner—not a prognosticator—so I’ll defer judgment to those with functioning crystal balls, but let’s address the college cost crisis and a way to avoid becoming the next student or parent squashed by education overpayment.

Is there really a crisis?

Financial Advisors: Differentiate Yourself By Being Yourself

The most freeing day of my career was when I sold my golf clubs.

Different

Although the transformation had been under way for several years, it was a moment of symbolic importance. It signaled an official decision to permit myself to be something other than what I had come to believe the financial industry wanted me to be. I was officially granting myself permission to be myself.

Conformity

I apologize in advance for stereotyping, but the sales managers I had worked for had personified the industry for me. Not fond of nuance or implication, they simply had expressed that I was to be, among other things, a golfer. So I bought a set of new clubs outfitted with a nice bag, and I hired an instructor to help me master the gentleman’s game.

After several lessons, my laidback instructor told me he’d never seen anyone grip the club quite so hard. We discovered that I had complemented my less-than-elite athleticism with heavy doses of intensity and hustle to remain competitive in sports while growing up. Unfortunately, as it turned out, these traits were counterproductive to success in golf.

Instead of investing thousands of dollars in psychotherapy to try and loosen my grip on a golf club, I sold my clubs and bought a used road bicycle. I grew to love the sport, which rewarded my overcompensation of will and desire.

But I wasn’t just dumping golf at that moment. I was dumping it all—the notion that I should only wear dark suits, plain white (or light blue on Friday) shirts, power ties, hair that is neither too long nor short and a clean shaven face. Eureka—I could even wear a pair of jeans to the grocery store now!

Differentiation

Paradoxically, as long as I lived inside of the industry’s box, I was taught to differentiate myself professionally—to become “the guy” for orthopedists or cosmetic dentists or corporate attorneys. Everything I did in life, work and play was supposed to send a message that would presumably attract a specific niche of people who are known for making especially profitable financial advisory clients.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with golfing, differentiating yourself or serving a niche. In fact, each of these pursuits can be beneficial for you and your clients when practiced in earnest. What is wrong—or at least unhealthy and more than a touch manipulative—is becoming someone you are not for the benefit of purposefully differentiating or conforming.

What if the Holy Grail of finding your niche and setting yourself apart from the crowd was found simply in permitting yourself to be yourself?

Being Yourself

If you always wanted to be a Navy fighter pilot but got turned down because you’re too tall or your eyesight was worse than 20/20, you could develop a niche serving military officers. If you aspired to be a surgeon but threw up all over the cadaver on the second day of medical school, you could serve the medical community. And of course, if you’re passionate about golf and enjoy the simplicity of uncomplicated garb, you should be entirely free to live up to the stereotype of the financial advisor.

There’s only one caveat, but it’s a big one: When you give yourself the freedom to be exactly who you are, you might disappoint other people. It’s easier for companies and managers—even parents, spouses and, in some cases, kids—to put you in a predictable construct that may best serve their needs and wants.

What if you want to help social workers navigate the world of personal finance and thereby would likely have to take a pay cut? What if it means you’d be working with clients less and drawing more? What if becoming fully you means moving to Latin America to manage a micro-finance operation and teach English? What if it means educating advisors more than investors?  What if it means designing a practice that conforms to your family instead of the reverse?

You might have to change ZIP codes, companies or professions altogether.

Unfortunately, being who you are—especially in the financial industry—may not be the easiest thing to do, but choosing to be yourself is simple because it’s natural, and incredibly liberating.

If you enjoyed this post, please let me know on Twitter at @TimMaurer, and if you’d like to receive my weekly post via email, click HERE.

 

20 Lessons We Can Learn From 20-Year-Olds

20 YO Graphic-01It’s become enormously popular to publicly lecture 20-somethings.  I’m not a 20-something, but my regular interaction with the Millennial generation as a college instructor leads me to conclude that we may have more to learn from 20-somethings than we have to teach them.

Here are 20 lessons in LIFE, WORK and MONEY inspired by the Millennial generation:

In LIFE…

Nobody responds well to being lectured.   Despite the ineffectiveness of self-righteous bombast, it seems never to be in short supply.  Insisting that someone else sees how wrong they are may guarantee that we will feel more right—but it doesn’t necessarily make it so.  Even if you have good intentions, the best time to teach someone something is after they’ve asked for input.

Life needn’t be so strictly compartmentalized.  Work, family, leisure, service, worship and artistic expression are elements of life that remain segregated for most.  But this schizophrenia of roles leads to inauthentic living in one or more of these venues (and drives us crazy).

We should give ourselves permission to be more of who we are and less of who people want us to be.  There’s an externally successful business owner who shows up at my gym for his morning workout dressed to the nines in a suit and tie.  He didn’t come from a meeting—he just thinks it’s important to send a message everywhere he goes that he is successful (and he’s happy to announce it).  The Millennials’ refusal to engage in such posturing is often mistaken for aloofness or apathy, but it’s really more about a healthy yearning for authenticity.

Being miserably busy is not a good measure of self-worth.  Busyness is no virtue.  It leads to forgetfulness, distraction and tardiness.  And it’s exhausting.

We are human beings, not human doings.  We tend to explain who we are by listing what we do for work and what we have accomplished professionally.  Millennials are more comfortable in their own skin and more capable of enjoying time that can’t be measured in terms of productive output.

 “American” is not actually a language.  Millennials are the first generation in decades who don’t take American pre-eminence for granted.  They’re expanding their personal and professional horizons with international travel and picking up a second or third language.

Traditional education is overvalued.  While Millennials are known for having overpaid for higher education, their dissatisfaction with what they got in return—fueled by their angst over the loans that now burden them—are serving to ensure that they and their children will spearhead the biggest education overhaul in a couple centuries.

In WORK…

Being a slave to work is no badge of honor.  Being the first in and last to leave may send a message to the types of people who value an ascetic work regimen, but it will also send a message to your family and close friends that your work is more important than they are.  Which message do you want to send?

We’re not all productive in the same ways and at the same times.  Sure, there are advantages to being an early bird, but the best employees will figure out where, when and how they work most effectively, and the best bosses will encourage them to do so (to a mutually beneficial end).

Work and life aren’t something to be balanced, but instead something to be integrated.  That we must balance work and life implies that they are seemingly opposed forces incapable of being effectively blended, but the most effective leaders and satisfied employees find ways to bring work to life by inviting more life to work.

Success is overrated.  Boomers have made an art form of becoming successful, or at least appearing so.  Success certainly isn’t a bad thing, but when the visible representation of success (more impressive titles, bigger houses, nicer cars, granite everything) takes precedence over those for whom we supposedly became successful to serve, we have a problem.  This isn’t even a generational thing.  It’s never really been true that reaching the pinnacle of success is what ultimately makes our lives fulfilling—it’s really significance and meaning for which we hunger.  Millennials seem to have a better handle on that.

In MONEY…

You don’t have to “get settled down” right away.  Financial planner, Roger Whitney, told me “[Millennials] are getting married later in life [than Baby Boomers] which gives them time to mature and be more financially secure when entering marriage.”

Money shouldn’t be a taboo topic of discussion.  30-something personal finance writer, Arielle O’Shea, finds Millennials to be more open about money.  Even if it’s because they’re more cynical about financial security, having seen a couple bubbles burst and many of their parents split over financial issues, Millennials seem to be more open to discussing their personal finances (to good effect) with each other and in public.

We don’t have to own everything—sharing is ok too.  Having to own everything we touch in this lifetime may be good for auto and home improvement companies, but it’s certainly not the most efficient or inexpensive way to do things.  Airbnb allows users to swap living spaces, Lyft offers a network of drivers when you need a ride, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg in the growing sharing economy.  Millennials are making and saving money with services like these, according to Forbes writer, Maggie McGrath.

The acquisition of real estate is overrated.  Creating stability, building equity and getting tax deductions are all good things—but losing money and depriving yourself of the freedom and flexibility to be mobile are not.  Millennials haven’t abandoned home ownership, but we all need reminding that it does have its drawbacks and shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion for everyone all the time.

We can and should embrace the role of technology in our financial lives.  The financial services industry is known more for hindering progress and clinging to antiquated, high-margin practices and procedures.  Millennials, however, are creating and “using websites such as Mint, You Need a Budget or Manilla, which not only help to track spending, but serve as accountability partners with e-mail alerts when spending limits are exceeded,” according to Mary Beth Storjohann, founder of Workable Wealth.

Youth isn’t a license to embrace reckless investing.  Carmen Wong Ulrich, host of Marketplace Money on APM says “[Millennials are] less likely to want to risk investing their money in the markets, but that also means they’re more likely to stay away from the financial products (and marketing) that burned their parents.”  Indeed, losing money isn’t a good strategy, regardless of your age.

Experiences are more valuable than things.  David Burstein, Millennial author of Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World, acknowledges that 20-somethings are spending more than any past generation on travel and eating out, but it’s because they place a higher value in deepening interpersonal relationships and creating lasting memories.

The “traditional” notion of retirement isn’t necessarily an ideal.  Millennials tell me that they expect to be working a long, long time.  They don’t expect pensions and don’t trust Social Security, leaving them with little choice, but they also don’t idolize the notion of full-time feet-in-the-sand retirement.  They plan to work longer and enjoy themselves more along the way, many of them hunting more for a calling than a job.

You can do well and do good at the same time.  Profit or charity—take your pick?  The Millennials have invited us to consider that we don’t have to choose between Robber Barron or do-gooder.  In addition to Google’s unofficial motto—“Don’t do evil”—companies like Toms and Warby Parker give one pair of shoes and eyeglasses (respectively) for every pair sold.

Every generation finds comfort in the norms it helped establish and relishes in the norms it helped deconstruct—but the outgoing generation tends to not-so-quietly mourn when the incoming generation does the same.  Pew Research calls the Millennials confident, connected and open to change.  Yes, it’s a little scary that 20-somethings are changing the way we live, work, play, invest and worship—all without even asking our permission!  But it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

If you enjoyed this post, please let me know on Twitter at @TimMaurer, and if you’d like to receive my weekly post via email, click HERE.

In this radio interview, I’m discussing my parody post, “5 Things The Most Successful People Do In The Bathroom,” with my favorite syndicated Canadian talk show host, Charles Adler.

Listen to the show segment here: You’re not them. They’re not you. Who are you?

Date: December 5, 2013
Appearance: You’re not them. They’re not you. Who are you?
Outlet: AM 680 CJOB
Location: Winnipeg, MB (Canada)
Format: Radio

7 Steps To Creating The Best Personal Task Management System With Trello

Originally in ForbesI have tried more productivity systems and tools than could possibly be productive.  Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits are deservedly legendary, and I’m better for every habit I’m able to employ.  David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology was even more helpful for me, especially because it seems to hone the best of Covey’s principles to a more elegant simplicity.  But both of their complete proprietary systems proved too much for me to maintain long-term.

7 Steps-01After keeping up for a few weeks—even past the 21 days that supposedly cement a new habit—I always failed to maintain the system after a reliably random task turned into a seemingly wasted day followed by a week of piled emails and unfulfilled pledges (and all of the guilt and shame to boot).

Another reason I’ve failed to maintain well-meaning systems is that after the initial novelty wore off, the checklists and to-dos all seemed to become rote and, well, boring.  I needed something more visual and engaging to hold my attention.

Then Ryan Carson, the founder of Treehouse, introduced me to Trello (via blogger Leo Babauta).  Trello is a highly visual (free) online collaborative project management tool (with access online and on iOS and Android devices), but Carson re-engineered it to become his go-to personal task management system.

I’ve been using it for five months now without fail, synthesizing everything from Covey and Allen that stuck, along with Carson and Babauta’s wisdom, to create the only task management system that’s ever really worked for me.  Here’s how it works for me and could work for you:

skitch

1)     After creating a Trello account, create a new “board” and call it Tasks.  Each board is comprised of vertical “lists”—these will function as your task prioritization system.  Then, each new “card” you add to a List represents an individual task.

2)     Create your lists.  My lists are a conglomeration of what I’ve learned from Covey’s 7 Habits and Allen’s GTD.  My first list on the left is called “Big Rocks”—the priorities in life that I want to consume the majority of my time.  Next is “Today,” the list of items that I hope to accomplish today, followed by “Incoming,” new tasks that have yet to be prioritized.  As you might guess, “This Week” houses the tasks I hope to accomplish this week; “Later,” those tasks I’d like to get to eventually but are not yet urgent; “Waiting On,” that which I’ve accomplished but requires action on another’s part; and “Done,” a list of the tasks I’ve accomplished that day.

3)     Whether you call it Big Rocks or Big Picture (Carson) or Most Important (Babauta), create a list under that heading with your biggest priorities in life.  Mine are Spiritual, Family, Health, Writing/Speaking, Business and Personal.  Now, click on your first prioritization category listed; you’ll see an option to “Edit Labels.”  I recommend making each of your Big Rocks a specific color, and clicking “Change Label Titles” will allow you to give each color a name corresponding with your Big Rocks.  Now, each time you add a new task, you can color code it with an appropriate label.

4)     Add tasks.  If you’re importing tasks from another system or just want to do a brain dump, add all of your tasks to Incoming and then decide where to put them later.  Click “Add a card…” at the bottom of the appropriate list and type a brief description describing the task to be performed.  Before you even hit the green “Add” button, hit the drop down in the bottom right corner and that will give you the option to add a label.  Once the task is added, a host of new options can be seen by clicking on the card itself.  Here you can give the task a longer description, create a checklist within the task, attach a file or give it a due date.  Preferring the GTD approach, I keep it simple and trust my daily prioritization ritual.

5)     After adding a bunch of new tasks, it’s time to prioritize each one by placing it in the appropriate list.  Simply click and drag the card with the task you’d like to prioritize and move it to the appropriate list.  If your lists span beyond the edge of your screen, you can simply hover on the screen’s edge and watch the board traverse in that direction, allowing you to place the card in the list of your choosing.  You can also grab and drag the screen in any direction you choose.

6)     The one essential habit you must form for this—or any other task management system— to work is to perform a review of your tasks board each morning.  Ryan Carson recommends taking 19 minutes to start every day organizing your to-dos.  “Limiting this to 19 minutes,” he says, “keeps you focused and ensures you don’t spend all your time prioritizing instead of doing.”  First, add any meetings or calls on your calendar that day to Today with a precursor (M) for meetings and (C) for calls, along with the time. Then, relocate new Incoming tasks to the appropriate list.  Review This Week to determine which tasks should be completed Today.  Then, review Later to see which tasks should be bumped up to This Week and scan Waiting On to determine if you need to nudge someone else.  Only keep tasks that were completed for a single day in the Done list, purging this list each morning by either moving the task to Waiting On or archiving the task.  You can archive individual tasks by clicking on the card’s drop down, or you can “Archive All Cards in This List” by hitting the list’s dropdown in the upper right-hand corner.

7)     Now, the fun part—getting things Done.  If you spent 19 minutes reviewing your board in the morning, you shouldn’t need to look at any lists except for Today and Done for the remainder of the day.  Throughout the course of your day, move completed cards to Done and reprioritize Today, leaving the next action to be performed at the top.

One of the perpetual faux-tasks that leads many of us astray from the completion of actual tasks is our email.  As Claire Diaz-Ortiz reminded me this week, “Email isn’t work.”  It certainly feels like it, but email is more a conduit leading us to tasks than a task in itself.  Your email inbox is also a horrendous task management venue because it distracts us from the next task on our priority list, but we do often send and receive tasks through email, so Trello provides us with an answer:

Hit “Show sidebar” in the top right of your Trello screen; under the Menu header, click on Settings, then click on Email settings.  This will allow you to copy and paste a specific email address that will send emailed tasks from your inbox to the board and list of your choosing.  (Be sure to create a contact for that email address—something like Trello Tasks—and you won’t have to remember the email address.)

Trello is intended to be an interactive project management solution for groups, but it has become my highly-individualized, personal task management system of choice.  The interactive, visual nature of Trello is what attracted me to it and has kept me using it, but the best part about it is that you can create your OWN system within Trello.  Once you do, or if you already have, I’d love to hear about it.

 

Men Want It All Too: Work And Family

Mr._Mom__1_“I wanted to be able to change diapers.”  That’s what Tim Donohue told me when I asked him about the life-altering choices he’d made regarding the elusive work/life balance.  We had both just read the recent New York Times article, “The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In,” revisiting the topic of women with Ivy League pedigree and promising career prospects who’d “opted out” of corporate life to dedicate themselves wholly to the art of maternal domestication.  Judith Warner’s findings were decidedly mixed, but with all of the talk of women on the “Mommy Track,” I was left to wonder, What about the dudes?  What role do men play in weighing their obligations at home and the office?

The debate about working moms is now so ubiquitous that we must conclude it’s a real issue—that women are wrestling with this topic so consistently that the battle waging within them is genuine.  Women, as a whole, seem clearly to want both a) to play a formative role in the upbringing of their children and b) to satiate the desire within to capably accomplish tasks of seemingly greater import than changing diapers or organizing class parties or even holding office within the school PTA.  Regarding the now public discourse over this internal wrestling match, men have done largely what they should—if they know what’s good for them—remain silent (sitting behind their three-olive martinis, newspapers and crossed feet adorned with the slippers June brought to the front door).

I am not fool enough to break that silence, but I do seek to explore whether there is any similar angst, any similar wrestling over this topic regarding their own roles, in the realm of men.  As it appears, there is and they are.

The 60-Hour Work Week

DSC_2863

Tim, Lesley and Louise

Tim and Lesley Donohue live in Denver.  Tim is a mortgage banker, Lesley is a nurse, and they both played a meaningful role in bringing Louise, their beautiful newborn baby girl, into this world.  What makes them unique and relevant to this discussion is that they’ve been planning—for years—to also both play a meaningful role in Louise’s day-to-day care into the future.  They intend to accomplish this with Tim working (roughly) 36 hours per week and Lesley 24, co-parenting along the way.  Why 36 and 24?  They’re compelled by the logic of philosopher, author and theology professor, Gilbert Meilaender, who suggests that in order for a family to support itself financially, practically and relationally, the parents’ aggregate occupational efforts should consume no more than 60 hours.  “We simply can’t have it all,” Tim told me.  So he will don the Baby Bjorn while Lesley works two 12-hour shifts per week.  Tim will fill in the gaps with his flexible work schedule, and maybe they’ll need six-to-eight hours of childcare per week.

No, you don’t just up and decide to do this.  Tim’s been planning on it for over a decade, since well before he even met Lesley.  I can corroborate that because I recall him telling me, very specifically, at a coffee shop, about ten years ago, that he was engineering his work-life to accommodate his life-life.  He wanted a job that offered good pay, lots of flexibility and a boss who trusted his employees to get the job done without being micro-managed.  “I wanted a career that was a good expression of who I am, but that also gave me plenty of space to be who I am.”  Fifteen years ago, when he made these career decisions, Tim was a mentor to high school and college youth.  Today, he’s a husband and a father, a son and a brother, a friend to many, and an active member of his community.

But Tim knew it was going to take a lot of effort to put himself in that position.  In a volatile business that is 100% commission, he started socking away money very early.  He knew that an overabundance of income one year could turn into a drought in another, so he worked to save one, and then two full years’ worth of living expenses as an emergency reserve.  He saved cash to buy a car with no debt.  He bought a house in a high cost-of-living area north of Baltimore, and aggressively paid his mortgage down with every shred of excess income, so that when he and Lesley moved to Denver (with a lower cost-of-housing), they were able to buy a house without a mortgage.  In their mid-thirties.  With two years of living expenses saved.

What makes Tim and Lesley so successful in finding a healthy balance between work and life is that they don’t consider it to be a balancing act.  Instead, they have successfully integrated work and life.

Is it possible that our notion of work/life balance implies that these are two opposing forces, and furthermore, that positioning them as competitors creates inertia that keeps them from being more successfully integrated?

Tim and Lesley make it look easy because of their forethought and the deliberate steps they took years ago to make a more integrated personal and financial life possible today, but most of us didn’t do that level of planning and are entrenched in seemingly irrevocable roles today.  Or are we?

Opting-IN

Women may not be the only ones giving up elite Northeastern educations for parenting purposes.  Andrew Ritter has two degrees in geological sciences (one from Colgate) and plied his trade up the stalactite ladder (or would that be stalagmite?) all the way to Project Manager, around the time he met his wife Jennifer, an attorney.  But as Jennifer’s legal career gained momentum, Andrew was burning-out of…whatever it is that geological scientists do.  He decided to punt his degrees and valuable experience, starting up a residential remodeling business, the work he did during college.  Andrew didn’t fall prey to the “Mancession” of late.  He simply decided that killing himself in 70-hour-a-week increments was not the way he was going to spend the majority of his adult waking hours.

Therefore, when baby Wilson and his little brother Ridgely came along, and as Jennifer’s career arc soared, Andrew had the occupational flexibility to opt-IN to being a part-time stay-at-home dad.  “There’s no question,” Ritter told me, “that it has been difficult financially.”  In a high cost-of-living area, they feel sometimes as though they’re just treading water.

“Was it worth it?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t trade these years for any corporate accomplishment.  I get to walk my kids to school every morning, and when Jen is in trial—leaving at 6 am and returning at 2 in the morning—I can be here to make sure everything runs smoothly at home.”

Maybe the key to “having it all” is simply a willingness to redefine our “it all.”  Or maybe the secret is to pursue our “it all” with less.  (Or both?)

Messrs. Ritter and Donohue both agree that the choices they have made are their choices—they’re not universal and worthy of widespread adoption.  But there are themes here that very few of us would dispute:

  • It’s becoming increasingly difficult for a household to live comfortably and save for the future with a sole source of income.
  • Both moms and dads struggle to know exactly how to allocate their time between the individual purposes to which they feel called and their chosen roles as partners and parents.
  • Dedicating ourselves to a work/life ratio that feels out of kilter eats at us, and can leave us dissatisfied with our efforts in the office and at home.

Our attempts to balance work and family have failed.  But resourceful, forward-thinking moms, dads and companies are getting more out of work and life by creatively integrating the two.

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