Lessons Learned While Chasing the Elusive Work-Life Balance

It seems that every time I sit on a presenter panel, or observe one in action, someone from the audience will inevitably ask the same question:

“How do you manage to be so productive while maintaining a reasonable work-life balance?”

Now I’m all for learning from the industry professionals that you look up to, but I have a major problem with any one of them declaring themselves “an expert” on managing this complex collision of personal and professional demands on your time.

Finding balance in my own personal and professional life is not a finite game. Due to the constantly changing circumstances of my life, there will never be a moment where I can say that I’ve found the permanent recipe for work-life balance. Instead, I can only tell you what has worked for me in the past, and you can go ahead and cherry-pick the ideas that bring value to your search for balance.

Here are three things I can say for certain about this topic:

1. YOU are the only person who can define balance in your own life

The “life” component of my work-life balance has shifted dramatically since 2014. For nearly seven years, I balanced work with the need to return home to my significant other early enough to share a meal together. There were more than a few nights where I didn’t pull this off, and it wasn’t the end of the world. Today I am accountable to a whole lot more than a loosely agreed upon late-dinner; my 6:00pm daycare pickup deadline is non-negotiable.

While I am thrilled to get home every night and horse around on the living room floor with my boys, there are workdays when I have to walk away from an incomplete to-do list. Like it or not, my world is structured around the calendar of my family as opposed to my own professional endeavors.

When I sit in a folding chair at the front of the room alongside a dozen other presenters from a weekend-long fitness event, and questions start rolling in from the audience, what are the odds that the person inquiring about “my system” for managing work-life balance is responsible for a gym with 8 employees, a part-time business consulting gig, and a family of four featuring two kids under the age of three?

I recently participated in this type of Q&A session in a room packed with fitness professionals I know, trust, and admire. We all shared our philosophies on this topic, and the insights could not have been more varied. I’ll never forget John Romaniello explaining that he enjoys his job so much that he hopes to “die with his fingertips on the keyboard.” That kind of passion for your craft is infectious.

Meanwhile, I told that audience that when all is said and done, I’m more concerned with being known as an awesome dad than I am for my business acumen; showing up to work isn’t as rewarding to me as teaching my son to play soccer in the back yard is at this moment in time. I know that in the not-so-distant future my boys will decide that hanging out with their friends is far cooler than rough-housing with dad, and that will likely be the moment that I feel the itch to get back to “grinding” professionally.

Do these dramatically different takes on managing a work-life balance mean that one of us is right and the other is wrong? Absolutely not. Our varied relationship with our work doesn’t change the fact that we are both making meaningful contributions to the fitness world.

We all deal with different circumstances both personally and professionally, so I implore you to be wary of strictly adhering to the advice of someone who has deemed themselves an authority on how you find peace in your combination of these two huge components of your life.

2. My employees would rather work for a good “family man” than a workaholic

Back in 2014 when my first son was born, I was constantly dealing with an anxious feeling that my colleagues had a problem with my reduction in hours spent at the gym. For years I’d spent 5-6 days each week living my business, and suddenly I was cutting staff-lift off of my to-do list and managing the company email account a whole lot more from my kitchen table. The work was getting done, but I became less of the constant presence that I once was.

That year, as we hit the mid-point of the CSP Fall Internship, I asked our intern (and current employee), Tony Bonvechio, what he hoped to learn from me during the last eight weeks of his time with us. His answer surprised me:

“I want to continue to observe how you manage to keep CSP moving and growing while simultaneously being a present father and husband. I hope to emulate your balance some day when I start my own family.”


Here I was thinking that my staff was resentful of my new tendencies as a business owner, while some, if not all of them, respected my decision to draw a line in the sand and declare that family will always take priority over being an entrepreneur. I’ve come to appreciate the fact that some of us live to work, while others work to live. The employees who fall into the latter category don’t want to feel like their contributions are perceived to be less valuable than those that come from people who can’t turn off their brains and exit work mode.

Being an employer or colleague who is known for placing “life” at or above “work” while still managing to do their job can be a good thing. People just want to know that they work for someone with a firm and consistent value structure.

3. Micro-managers will never find a work-life balance

If you don’t trust your team and your systems, you will forever be a slave to your work. Fitness facilities like CSP can’t function on the shoulders of a single individual. So why do so many gym owners try to oversee every aspect of their business operations despite having capable employees who are painfully underutilized and who crave more responsibility?

From 2007 through 2014, we worked diligently to create tried and tested systems for assessing athletes, designing programs, processing payments, scheduling training sessions, fielding phone calls, instructing individualized training sessions, educating our interns, providing nutrition guidance, and much more. Guess how many of the tasks I’ve mentioned qualify as my responsibility today? None of them. I could meddle in the execution of each and every one of these important components of our day-to-day operation, but I don’t; I trust my team.

Since my employees are in tune with their roles and responsibilities, I can spend my working hours focusing on business development, brand management, and marketing strategy that drive CSP revenues in the long-term. Once those hours are behind me, instead of re-checking my employee’s work, I go home and throw myself into discussions about who went down “the big slide” today and what kind of goldfish crackers were served during snack time.

For the moment, I am at peace with my work-life balance, but that doesn’t mean you would be.

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