In the immediate aftermath of “Superstorm” Sandy, I found myself in Hoboken as part of the first response during the rescue and sheltering/sustainment as the city recovered and started the rebuilding process. Immediately after I found myself as a project team leader for NY City’s Rapid Repairs program, responsible for the high-rise and multi-family programs and then 5 programs in 3 boroughs. Long days and nights, again taking care of the emergent needs of a populace at risk as we restored the ability to safely shelter in their homes by providing heat, hot water, and safe electricity. During this period I was able to keep up with my school commitments and completed my MA at Rutgers. I even managed to get published in a professional journal, so that’s a plus. As we slowed at Rapid Repairs I finally had a chance to start spending time with my family. It was hard to be resentful of the job, as we were much better off than those that were devastated by the storm, and it was “doing good”. Of course, summer meant additional Army commitments, taking me away from the family for over 3 weeks, but I had a normal schedule to look forward to when I got back. I could get some things done around the house, we could go out and do family stuff, and we could be “normal”.
Then Sandy called me.
As I write this I am sitting out on Long Island. We are doing recovery work, helping homeowners get back to their homes, complete their repairs, and providing necessary support as these communities rebuild. Whole blocks were wiped out, and a lifetime of memories and savings were destroyed for many, and this assistance is what brings happiness and stability back for many. Due to political considerations, a need was identified to attempt to complete over 5,000 home inspections and awards in the span of 27 days, so since the beginning of September I have been out here working 7 days/16 hours a day. For 6 weeks the only days off I had were for military duty-not even to go see my family. I am living out of a hotel, because a 2+ hour commute each way does not jive well with a 16 hour day…
I started this blog as an extension of my schoolwork progressing into my PhD and as a way to informally get some of my thoughts and ideas expressed towards those that may share my interests or that I may interact with professionally. I learned that it is hard when there are so many commitments.
I have also further determined that the thing called “work/life balance” does not exist as balance; it exists as compromise. When considering the balance, it is really a consideration of what must be given up in order to support the other. Some things are less flexible than others by nature, so it really comes down to what you are willing to put up with, and what your family is willing to support.
COL John D Sims, USA, reflected on his thoughts on Balance in a Military Career in an article published in the Canadian Military Journal. The article concentrated on being a good leader, but finished with some sage advice regarding being a good parent: “My dad, Lieutenant Colonel (ret’d) Billy Gene Sims, has mentored me throughout my career and my life. He served 20 years as a field artilleryman and army aviator. He fought on Pork Chop Hill during the Korean War, and flew during two tours in Vietnam. When he commissioned me as a second lieutenant, he gave me some great advice. Dad said, “Son, go to work early and come home early.” I understood the “go to work early” part, because it reinforced the perception I held of the army – you had to work long and hard to succeed. But I did not understand the “come home early” bit. His point was that if you go in early, your kids really won’t miss you because they’ll still be in bed. Plus, you can get a lot of work done before other soldiers arrive and you begin to change focus. “Come home early” really meant be home in time to sit down at the family table for dinner, and to help with homework, baths, and bedtime stories. Those are critical times in raising a family. Kids have a simple but vital need: to be with their mothers and fathers. No special activities or accessories are required; just being and talking with your kids and your spouse. Just being there will do more for family and world peace than any other activity. There will be deployments or training missions that prevent you from being home for dinner. Make those times the exception. If this lesson isn’t sufficiently clear, just ask your kids, and they will tell you.
By the way, my dad continued the rest of the story by saying: “Son, I mastered going to work early, but I never mastered coming home early.” I have considered it my job to finish what he started….There are successful leaders who sacrifice and lose their families for their career. Why is that? Perhaps we take our spouse for granted. As soldiers, the army gives us orders, but our spouse gets invitations. Did you ask your spouse for his/her continued support during your next assignment? Was his/her opinion part of your decisions? Have you thanked him/her for the contributions to your career, children, community, and country? Bought any flowers lately? It is when we take spouse or family for granted and fail to nurture our relationships that we are no longer successful. Spouses sacrifice a lot to allow us to serve. Acknowledging and appreciating their contributions helps reinforce why they make such sacrifices – namely, you”
I wouldn’t be out here doing this if my wife didn’t support me, and I just hope that when I decide that this is too much that I don’t make that decision too late.