This post originally appeared in Human Infrastructure Magazine, a free newsletter produced by the Packet Pushers. You can subscribe here.
In 2007+8, I was studying for the CCIE certification. It’s a demanding exam, so I developed a life-consuming preparation method that was above and beyond my prior certification efforts.
During the CCIE prep months, I did not have a good balance between “work” and “life”. Work/life balance has been much discussed in the context of tech careers lately. The current rule, and one I generally espouse, is that it’s not worth sacrificing your personal life on the altar of your career.
Exceptions To The Rule
However, there are exceptions. I recently watched a documentary that made the point, “Balance is an excuse not to go all out.” Many people like the idea of having achieved something hard, but they don’t want to do the work. Their excuse to not do the work is some approximation of “work/life balance.”
I’m not here to tell you that it’s worth destroying your marriage to become a CCIE–which some people have done. I am saying that in order to get hard things done, your life will have temporary imbalances if those hard things are truly important to you.
There was no balance in my life for many months. If I wasn’t at work, I read badly written chapters of a complicated CiscoPress book and tried to make sense of what I was reading. I logged into a rack of switches and routers and performed lab exercises. I wrote long blog posts trying to get back out of my head what I’d been stuffing in there. I slept. I went back to work.
I was (and am) married, with kids, cats, and a house. I did my best to keep up with those things, but I doubt I was good at them. I put minimum effort into my personal life. My understanding spouse tolerated my inadequacy.
Of course, I took breaks and eventually had to take some evenings off, but mostly, it was all packets all the time. I remember falling asleep trying to solve lab challenges in my head. I had dreams about the lab exam. I also gained weight, as eating was my main distraction.
My lack of balance, a.k.a intense focus, led to ultimately passing the lab exam. I was a CCIE for many years. Was the payoff worth the effort? To me it was, as I was able to capitalize on my shiny digits in a variety of ways.
Living Above Laziness
Let’s recall the earlier quote, “Balance is an excuse not to go all out.” If you have hard goals you can’t seem to achieve, the question to ask is whether you’re using “work/life balance” as a excuse to be lazy. “Lazy” is a harsh word, but it’s the one you’ve got to be honest with yourself about.
“In 2017, Netflix spent $6.3 billion on original and acquired programming,” according to this ReCode article, and they’ll spend $8 billion in 2018. By Digi-Capital’s measure, video gaming was a $165 billion industry in 2017. Netflix alone offers more programming than you can ever watch. More games will be released than you can possibly play.
I use those as examples of things you might need to let go of to achieve difficult goals. You don’t need these activities if you have difficult goals in mind. Sometimes, you need to go all-in to get something done.
Historically, I have written and podcasted a lot about prioritizing work/life balance. Perhaps this article feels counter to that. Consider that everything has a place. Personal sacrifice can be equally important to balance in the larger scheme of your life. Those times of temporary imbalance are needed, too.