Back in the 1980s I was working third shift on an assembly line. One night one of the supervisors was telling me how difficult his job was becoming. He had been a former shop worker like me but had accepted a promotion to supervisor. He complained that he was working seven days a week, 10-12 hours a day. He couldn’t sleep when he got home, and the stress was getting to him.

I explained to him that if he was to collapse tonight someone would put him in a chair, call the in-plant ambulance to take him to the hospital, roll his chair next to the wall for the ambulance, and that assembly line would never stop running. The next night that is exactly what happened. He passed out and everything I predicted occurred just as I said. Fortunately, it was nothing serious, and he was back to work the following night. When our shift started he came and told me he was going to make some changes!

We live in a very competitive, cut-throat, dog-eat-dog world. Working long hours with little sleep and trying to manage stress with medicine seems to be the norm for many people. We can function this way for a time, but eventually it will catch up to us. I know. I spent a year clinically depressed trying to live that way. It took a year of counseling and medication before I got my life back. I learned many things during that year that has helped me avoid a repeat performance.

I learned the importance of building margin into my life. I learned that climbing the ladder of success is of no value if it’s leaning against the wrong building. I learned the value of setting priorities for my life and living according to those priorities rather than those others may try to set for me. I learned the importance of having balance in my life and that balance is possible if one wants it bad enough. I learned that it is OK to say no to people. I also learned that each of these new learnings must be remembered and practiced every day if balance in one’s life is to be achieved.

Should we expect perfect balance all the time? Life isn’t that simple. Emergencies do happen, not as often as we sometimes think, but they do happen. Priorities sometimes need to change, but these times should be measured in hours or days, not in months and years. Life may get out of balance for a short period of time while we resolve issues, but as quickly as possible we need to get back on track to living a more balanced life.

Balance begins by setting priorities based upon what we want most out of life. For me, my relationship with God and my family is most important. That probably means I’ll never be a millionaire or the president of some large corporation. I’m not willing to sacrifice what’s most important to me to achieve those other things.

When I owned a small business our primary vendor invited their dealers to attend a seminar led by one of their most successful dealers. This man’s company had sales in the millions of dollars. All day long he taught us how he had achieved his success, and he was quite proud of that success. He talked about his expensive toys and clothes, and I’m sure some of the other dealers were spellbound wanting to be like him. I wasn’t. He came across as arrogant and selfish. When he joked that he was on his third wife I knew I didn’t want to be like him. He had made some trade-offs that I would never make to achieve a level of success I would not consider to be success.

I prefer to live a more balanced life, and my measurement of success is how well I achieve that balance. Balance is possible, but only if you want it. If you choose to not pursue a balanced life, that’s up to you. Just don’t expect the assembly line of life to stop while you are being tended to.

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