Yesterday Ryan posted about creating a blended life. His post makes me think a lot about my own set up. I am pretty sure people would say I have a blended life:

1. I work from 8-1pm and 8pm to 12pm seven days a week. Except when I don’t, because my two young sons need something.

2. I take care of my kids from 1pm to 8pm. Except when I don’t because some inflexible business partner needs something.

3. My husband takes care of the kids in the morning, and sometimes in the afternoon, if I have a lot of work. And sometimes I do a whole day of kids when he needs to have more alone time.

This is not a perfect arrangement. For example, I feel guilt when I travel to New York City to promote my book — which I’ve done a couple of times in the past few months. And my husband doesn’t have a career he loves.

But what I want to say is that the hardest part of this blended life for me is not the kids or the career decisions or the marital decisions, but transitioning between the everything.

For example, it’s so hard to be with the kids and not think about work. If nothing else, work is just plain easier to deal with. A blended life is great, but focus on the moment is important, as well. Moving fluidly between such totally different worlds often makes it hard for me to keep my mind in one place when it needs to be.

Last night, at my aunt’s house, there were thirty people around a table all focused on telling the story of Passover. For those of you who don’t know, Passover celebrates when the slavery of the Jews in Egypt ended — thousands of years ago. Who knows how much of the story is true? I’m not sure. But we tell it every year, and it’s a very organized meal, and the point is to teach the story to the kids in an organized way. And last night the only kids there were mine. For much of the story, they were actually paying attention. After all, when does a kid get 30 adults telling a story for your benefit?

What I noticed is that I was so happy to be doing the Passover story and meal with my kids that I stopped worrying about work. Stopped thinking about my blog posts and my book sales and all the other things that hum in my mind most moments of the day.

A lot of times it takes doing something out of the ordinary for you to see what you need to be doing now. Passover did this for me. I realized that even though I’m going through the motions of separating from work each day, I’m not making the mental transition as effectively as I could. I hike with the kids, I go to the gym, do the things you’d think would allow me to stop thinking about work. But I’m not always successful.

Passover was so nice because I had a great ability to focus on stuff that wasn’t work. I want to get that more, in my blended life.

21 replies
  1. Mikeachim
    Mikeachim says:

    It’s always illuminating looking at methods of escapism, and then tracing them backwards, seeing what we’re escaping *from* (even if it’s only in a mild sense)….
    Do you think it was the diversity, the complete change in gear, of the Passover story that you enjoyed so much?

  2. Mary
    Mary says:

    Happy Passover!

    There was something about Ryan’s post that bugged me, and I think it’s also something that is hitting you. Blended life really isn’t very well blended. In the blended world, work seeps into leisure and family life. It usually doesn’t work the other way around. I mean, its not like you’re working at your computer and thinking intensely about hiking. But, you can be hiking, and easily thinking intensely about work. It’s much harder to shut out work that is engrossing, or office politics, when you are supposedly at leisure.

    The firm where I work is a consultant to a major retailer. Our client was recently profiled in Business Week for allowing corporate employees to work blended hours–taking off in the middle of the day to go to a movie, or attend their kid’s school play, etc–no questions asked. The only stipulation is the employees have to meet certain department goals–working nights and week-ends if this is necessary. Struck by this profile, I asked my colleagues who work directly with the retailer if they had noticed a change. They uniformly said no–the retailer had instigated this blended hours policy because it wants its employees to be available and working 24/7 without saying they have to be available. My colleagues observation is that people there are working more hours because there are now no boundaries around when they are supposed to work or not supposed to work. Needless to say, they aren’t being paid extra to be always on.

    I agree with many of the comments to Ryan that blended work/life doesn’t really work so well while raising a family. I think there is nothing sadder than people on their Blackberries at school events, or during family outings. I think it sends a message to children that they are not worthy of full attention–it goes back to the self esteem post of last week. You can tell a kid their drawing is great–but how you say it is more important. Are you looking into their eyes when you say it, or looking at a screen while you e-mail something about work?

  3. Lewis Green
    Lewis Green says:

    Penelope,

    Thank you for your post and for sharing your personal story. As a frequent reader I know you care lots about your kids. As for me, I have, except in the military, always placed my work after family and my own health–physical and mental. I think that is because I do not define myself by my job.

    I won’t go into details, but I have a powerful faith in a supreme being, and that means a strong belief in focusing on people and building of human relations. Even in running my business, I am people-focused not profit focused.

    Furthermore, I learned long ago that those who put in the most hours aren’t always the best at what they do. In fact, often they are inefficient (not casting aspersions on you or Ryan–I don’t know either of you well) or doing so to impress others or driven to do so out of some weird sense of guilt. In my personal experiences over 35 years, they seldom product more or better work than those who work shorter hours.

    Growing up as a newspaper writer, long hours were not a factor; in fact, writing fast and making deadlines are what counted. I still evaluate my employees and, when in the corporate world, my direct reports not by the hours they put in or the quantitity of what they produce but by the quality of their work.

    Living in the moment can make both your personal life and your work life better. Try it! You’ll like it.

  4. Jacqui
    Jacqui says:

    I can completely agree with this post and the comments. After graduating from college, I was immediately hit with this overwhelming feeling of relief that comes from not having papers and exams and all that college to-do hanging over my head. I loved it!

    I was able to maintain that feeling (even through 80 hr work weeks) until I started my current job almost nine months later. And with only about two months in this new job, I’m taking work home and feel like I’m slipping back into college stresses again. Even when I’m out with friends I have a hard time not talking about work or drifting off into planning the coming week.

    Living a blended life is a great goal, in concept, but in reality, I’m thinking more about work than if I just worked a 9-5.
    (insert exasperated sigh here)

  5. tamar
    tamar says:

    And happy Passover to you, too, from my fill-in-the-blank life. I blogged about Passover this year, and spent much time on crafting the post because in some of the ways that the Seder meant to you, the holiday creates a space, call it sacred or not, a halt or pause in the flow of our sometimes wacko lives. (Similarly, I seek in the weekly Sabbath, a pause from my madness and obsession with doing, fixing, messing about.) While I don’t advocate one or any spiritual path for anyone, I do appreciate the discipline of embracing and being embraced by a communal, historical set of traditions, customs, even rituals that can help keep us whole… and to BE so that we can DO and then BE and DO, again… and again.

  6. Brad Maier
    Brad Maier says:

    I think it is important to clarify some aspects of the blended life. A blended life is not the same as multi-tasking (i.e. you’re not on your blackberry while you’re at your kids play). This is typically an inefficient way to operate and causes problems when neither one of your tasks receives the focus it deserves. The concept of the blended life might be better stated by saying that things no longer occur in set schedules. In a blended life, work is no longer confined to 9 to 5 and family life and other pursuits are not confined to the rest of the day.

    It’s perfectly acceptable to make your schedule flexible to fit your needs and it is not a bad thing to do some work late at night or to take a half hour to send work email while at home. If you’re working at something you love this shouldn’t even be a big deal. The same thing goes for tending to other interests or to children in the middle of the “work day” if the need calls for it. This is not an entirely novel concept. The blended life is just becoming more acceptable and in reality is probably a more efficient way to work.

    -Brad Maier

  7. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I agree with Brad’s clarification. To me, a blended life is NOT some kind of 24 hour multitasking marathon, with the inevitable inefficiencies and inherent lack of focus this brings. I really appreciate your honesty Penelope, and you’ve made the very relevant point that blending is not necessarily a panacea for all our working ills.

    But some of the comments here suggest that many of us are ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater, which is a shame. Why not look at the real reasons why it’s so difficult instead? It’s no secret that many companies are shameless profiteers when it comes to their employees, so of course they will use this to their advantage if they are allowed to. And yes, it can be difficult to switch off at the end of a very (very VERY if you’re Penelope :) ) long day, especially when there are lots of exciting things happening in one particular aspect of our lives. And I’m sorry, but people on their Blackberries at school events do NOT have blended lives, or indeed any kind of a life outside their own self importance!! (It’s just plain bad manners, aside from anything else)
    So I don’t see how these barriers lead to the assumption that a blended life is any less achievable than what has been traditionally called a work/life balance, or even worse, is only for those without a family.

    Thanks, as ever, Penelope, for your honesty and your thought provoking post.

    Sarah

  8. Jenflex
    Jenflex says:

    Sarah, I think you’ve hit on something really profound…a lot of the companies that get cited in this blog and others as being examples of empowering the best kind of work-life blend, are those with a leader or a structure that explicitly values something in addition to profit.

    (Can’t not value profit, or you don’t end up with much of a business, but having something in addition to helps create a natural set of checks and balances…and that’s crucial.)

    Trouble is, that “something else” usually is one of the first things to erode when a company goes public or grows beyond a certain size. (I am waaaaaaaaay generalizing here.)

    Maybe, as more of the workforce reflects this need for values diverging beyond profit-only, and as more entrepreneurs grow businesses…and as more smaller businesses provide counterweight vs. the few GI-NORMOUS ones now dominating the markets, things will start to change.

    (well, maybe it’s the start of a dream, anyway.)

  9. Mary
    Mary says:

    I think I’m now ending up with confusion over what a blended life is versus creating work/life balance. It seems like one leads to the other: you have to have a blended life (a flexible schedule) in order to achieve some decenta work/life balance.

  10. Aparna Paul
    Aparna Paul says:

    This is a really nice post. Simple, nice, sweet and from the heart, like so many of your posts. Thanks for this one.

  11. Rambler
    Rambler says:

    Do you get time which all of you can spend together?. I see that you coordinate and be with kids. Its really wonderful you are doing that. I feel sometimes its so good for kids to spend lots of time with both of you guys

  12. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    I don’t mean to be pedantic, but do you mean 8pm to 12am (ie. midnight) rather than 8pm to 12pm (ie. midday)? I think you do but just want to check!

  13. Stephen Seckler
    Stephen Seckler says:

    At our Passover seder, we talked about the ways that we are enslaved today. While we live in relative freedom, compared to our ancestors in Egypt, we can be enslaved by e-mail, our laptop computers, voice mail and other devices that prevent us from shutting off work. Your reference to Passover was very relevant.

    I really think the only solution is to turn off the cell phone and blackberry (which I did at 3:30 on Monday to get ready for the onslaught of our relatives.) I agree with some of the other comments that highlight how easy it is to think about work when you are hiking but the opposite is not necessarily true.

  14. Greg
    Greg says:

    Bravo! Great post!

    Blended. Balanced. Boundries. Maybe choosing appropriate times and places to focus one’s attention?

  15. PunditMom
    PunditMom says:

    This was a great post and a great reminder about how I don’t think I’m doing a great job at my blended life. Like you, I have odd, split working hours and do some work almost every day of the week — blogging, writing, networking. I have a hard time not thinking about what work I should be doing when I have time with my daughter after school and on the weekends, but I’ve been striving to do better (especially after she asked if I love my computer more than her — ouch!)

    Interesting that you should talk about Passover. We have a blended religious family as well, and attended a Passover seder on Monday nite. I had so much to do, I really didn’t want to go and thought about sending hubby and daughter on their own. But it was such a great, family-friendly event (plastic frogs and flies on the table to represent the plagues, Passover songs sung to the tunes of popular sitcoms). It was a great family time, especially when PunditGirl was chosen to read the four questions.

    So, I struggle with the “balance” every day. Thanks for writing about your world to help us focus more on similar issues in ours!

    Happy Passover!

  16. Brian Johnson
    Brian Johnson says:

    The concept of living in the moment is what I personally believe to be the single biggest factor in one’s overall happiness (I think contentment is probably a better description of what most of us would really like to achieve). A book on the subject that changed my life is “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. The message boils down to this: you cannot change the past and there are no guarantees you’ll experience the future. To let any stress or worry associated with either influence your state of being in the moment is wasted energy. Easy to say, but very difficult to achieve. Buddhist monks devote their lives to achieving enlightenment, which I interpret to be this basic concept.

    Penelope’s post about the Passover story really resonates with me as I think about the two things I love to do more than anything else: perform music and downhill ski. I recently discovered the biggest reason why I enjoy each is because of the total focus and concentration required in the moment for each. You simply cannot be thinking intently about other things when you are doing either of these tasks at a high level. For me it is something like subconcious escapism.

    Perhaps the concepts of happiness or contentment and blended life/work-life-balance are two separate topics. It seems that contentment is achieved through more of a philosophical discipline. For some this may mean religious faith, for me it means living in the now (please note that this is NOT the same as “letting fate decide” nor does it forego intelligent decision making for the future). But the blended life/work-life-balance topic is more of a question of priorities and goals. What work or life accomplishments do you hope to achieve? What are you willing to sacrifice to achieve them? I think it may be possible to attain happiness with a lot of different work-lifestyle structures if your mental house is in order, so to speak.

    Again, saying it and living it are two very different things.

  17. Ankakay
    Ankakay says:

    Penelope (!)

    Thank you, THANK YOU for this fantastic and cunningly à-propos post!

    Although our lives are -very- different (from what I have so lovingly enjoyed from you in my short-term-edness as a fan ;) ), I could relate to so much of this, of special note, your comment regarding “. . .the hardest part of this blended life for” you:

    “…but transitioning between the everything.”

    AND also(!) . . . :

    “I realized that even though I'm going through the motions of separating from work each day, I'm not making the mental transition as effectively as I could.”

    Wow, I tell you – I make that very same ‘realisation’ every single day these days, or so it seems(!).

    Again, thank you for the uniqueness and authenticity (er, “Hey look! A HUMAN wrote this! Novel! Yay!” – as it CAN be, so to speak(!) ;) ). (Erm, but -obviously- never in any of your endeavours. I think I made my ‘point’, heheheh – YOU ‘RULE’! ;) ).

    Peace, and thank you for this invaluable personal-experience info. on “walking the walk WHILE talking the talk” ;)

    ~Ank(Rae)
    (yowsers! And thank you also for the ‘Markdown Syntax’ link to Daring Fireball – hopefully I’ll make use of it next time! :\ !)

  18. Glenn Mandelkern
    Glenn Mandelkern says:

    I definitely like the Passover dinner, the Seder, a word that means “Order” ever so appropriate for this work/life balance blend.

    I also remember at my first Seder that I was a little bit different because I liked one entree the most, the bitter herbs. The horseradish is supposed to represent “suffering.”

    I now think about some of those in today’s workforce who think they must be Type A all the time. They believe that anybody who isn’t full-steam like them isn’t as dedicated to their work or career. And it all can’t be enjoyable, you have to suffer, you have to miss out on a kid’s baseball game like they did. I used to disagree, now I see I really do buy it, though only up to a point.

    I now recall one of my favorite sayings which I offer to them, namely, “Suffering is mandatory. Misery is optional.”

    Shalom!

  19. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    I have a very bright friend who didn’t work while her kids were growing up. Her sister on the other hand is a lawyer with a lot of responsibilities.
    My friend told me that while she was doing housework she would often be thinking about her kids and their needs. Whereas, during the day, her sister didn’t have time to think about her kids at all.

  20. A. McCausland
    A. McCausland says:

    Mary wrote: “In the blended world, work seeps into leisure and family life. It usually doesn't work the other way around. I mean, its not like you're working at your computer and thinking intensely about hiking. But, you can be hiking, and easily thinking intensely about work. It's much harder to shut out work that is engrossing, or office politics, when you are supposedly at leisure.”

    Well… . Actually I have the opposite problem. I find myself thinking a lot about leisure during work hours and have no trouble blocking out work thoughts during my leisure hours. I think about hiking, swimming in the warm sea and spending time on the beach, being in a warm climate walking amogst the tropical plants, and all kinds of other leisure things while I’m at work. In fact, the hope that one day I may be able to make my living some other, leisurely way and not have to sit in an office in front of a computer is often the only thing that gets me through the day.

    The only problem is the reality that I’m stuck here in front of the computer while time keeps marching towards my inevitable demise. This realization then causes anxiety that I must find that other, leisurely way as quickly as possible – lest I waste away too much of my limited time. Of course this quest to find the other way then obsesses my mind and brings me to a state of panic when after many hours, over many weeks I have found no definitive solution to the problem and am forced to retreat, emotionally bruised and bloodied but not completely defeated, into the office where I will submit to the demands of my employer and gather my resources in preparation for the next campaign.

    Does anyone else suffer from a similar state of mind?

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