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The Balancing Act

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Nine years ago, I thought it wise to tell my wife she needed a hobby. Stop laughing, it gets better. After two weeks of mulling it over, she let me know that she wanted to go back to school with the eventual goal of medical school. Did I mention we had a toddler and a preschooler at the time? Well, my wife Cheralyn started her second year of medical school today, and we are up to four kids.

There is obviously more to the story than will fit in this article, but trust me when I say that we are where we are by the grace of God and not because we are somehow amazing. The point is, if you are struggling with the work-life balance - I understand your dilemma.

Let me emphasize that while family is the first place many of us focus when looking at the "life" side of this tightrope, our single Airmen are at the same risk of becoming unbalanced as are their married counterparts. You face the same pressures generated from 20 years of constant deployment for the Fightin' Fifty Fifth, whether you are launching a jet or flying on it, filing your fifth travel voucher from Central Command or processing it for someone else, getting back in shape in a combat gym or keeping those gyms in order. We know how much we ask of you and are honored to lead and serve beside you. You need to be grounded and growing off-duty just as much as folks with families. That being said, I easily default to family terms, so forgive me in advance and plug in the appropriate analogy when required.

So, I look across my desk at the pictures of my wife and children and I am torn. Serving in uniform means I am protecting them and so many others, but it also means missed anniversaries, birthdays, reunions and more. What can you and I do to balance professional and personal life?

- Use your leave. I still remember my Director of Operations gently rebuking me when I apologized for requesting leave years ago. He reminded me that not only is our generous annual leave well earned, it is also a healthy counterbalance for the Type A tendencies many of us share.

- Don't be afraid to ask to leave early for that game or recital. Just because you are not able to make each one does NOT mean you should miss them all. The flip side of that coin is we need to work our tails off so the occasional early departure does not negatively affect our Wingmen.

- Consider and consult your family or significant other before volunteering for that career boosting opportunity. You don't want to hit afterburner without them onboard.

- Give serious thought to your long term goals. Whether you plan to give us one term or 30 years, you need a plan for what comes next and you need to periodically review your progress.

- Finally, ask someone you trust to assess your work-life balance. Make sure your assessor is the kind of person you go to for the hard truth, not just a friend who lets you vent.

Fellow commanders and supervisors, let's make sure we keep the pulse of our people and encourage them to strike the right balance. While we all know our Airmen make the mission happen, I believe we have an obligation to keep an eye on the long-term ball of what kinds of citizens we give back to the public. I say we do our best to return balanced, emotionally and relationally healthy folks to civilian life. It won't be easy, but as Booker T. Washington said, "Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work."