I am currently a software consultant. In consulting it is very important to ask, “Why?” The reason is that clients often think they want you to create or implement a specific solution, but they really want a specific outcome–and often their original request is not the best way to achieve the desired outcome.
Therefore, understanding the “why” is one of the keys to really doing a great job and providing value to the client. It is important to convince them to do what is best versus what they ask.
The same is true for us humans as we walk through our lives, and especially as we navigate our careers. In high tech we are especially susceptible to being sucked into accepting the world’s view of success. In many cases, the world’s idea of success ought to be considered abject failure by a follower of Jesus. For that reason, I think it is important to frequently ask ourselves “Why” with respect to our jobs and careers.
In Colossians 3, Paul makes it crystal clear who we really work for:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. [emphasis mine]Colossians 3:23-25 (NIV)
Many followers of Yeshua say they work hard to “honor the Lord”. Although I respect the concept, there comes a point where the hours and effort are so extreme that they are damaging to home, family, and sometimes even health. You have to ask if sacrificing these things is truly honoring the Lord. The reply I get sometimes is that “work-life balance is more like a pendulum… sometimes it swings hard towards the job, and sometimes it swings towards family.”
If that is true, then it is a pendulum that defies gravity. Every “job pendulum” I’ve seen in high tech has an average position that leans well towards the job. A picture tells the real story best:
Let’s say I have a tough project that consumes me for a month of 75+ hour weeks. That is all too common in the software world. When that project is done, does my CEO suggest I swing that work-life pendulum back to the middle by working 5 to 10 hours a week for a month, or taking three weeks off without needing to hit my paid time-off balance?
The answer to that question is, “Almost never.” I had one job where we could accrue comp time, but we could only take it at our manager’s discretion–which was rarely provided–and we “still had to finish assigned work on time”. What good is comp time when it only makes my work life more difficult when I take it?
My point is that the pendulum can swing back to the middle–a reasonable and hopefully healthy balance point–but it is exceedingly rare for it to be allowed to swing the other way to provide a true balance. The numerical average is therefore well into the zone that favors the company, and often to an unhealthy degree. Easy math makes that obvious.
So what is a follower of Christ to do?
Let me start with an assumption: I am assuming that when you are working you are highly focused, optimized, ever-improving and an incredibly valuable employee. If you are a lazy time-waster, you have also forgotten whom you serve and need different advice.
So, given the assumption that you are a valuable employee, start by always asking yourself why: Why am I truly compelled to work such crazy hours or be away from home so much? If the answer involves words like “success” or “achievement” or “career advancement” then that is a sign you’re serving the wrong master. If you can forgive a butchered quotation… Sometimes the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our CEOs, but in ourselves.
Second, if you’re married, have a brutally honest discussion with your spouse about work hours. What is the maximum that will still allow the family to be healthy? It may surprise you how much your spouse is willing to flex. My point is that this is a joint decision and not one your should make arbitrarily on your own. You should both pray about it, too, since our Creator knows better than any of us what is healthy and what isn’t.
Once that max is determined, live by it. Do not exceed it. Ever.
That is extreme and inflexible and will require a lot of faith. You may get into such an outrageous situation at work that you get fired. I know it is easy for me to say this, but so be it: You serve a different master.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, when you are with your spouse on date night, or playing with your children, or having dinner with extended family, put away your phone. I mean put it so far away you can’t hear it, or maybe even turn it off. When you are doing family time, do it well. Be fully present and in those moments. Savor them… there are far too few of them, and I speak from experience.
If you follow my advice, I do not really believe it is likely you will get fired. On the contrary, I believe it is more likely you will do better work overall and be blessed for it. I honestly believe that God has caused me to have more stature and status at work than I deserve. I don’t pretend to know the mind of God, but I can’t help but think that serving Yeshua first in the totality of things in life is part of the reason.