Maybe I’m just sensitive, but I’ve been reading a fair number of acknowledgements in books lately that talk of book-writing as an “all consuming” process. The writer thanks someone (often the wife) for taking on all duties at home so our hero could concentrate on writing. The writer apologizes to children for missing soccer games and dinners, so all-consuming was this book. I understand that book acknowledgements are a certain genre of literature — how many times have people used the phrase “So and so drastically improved the manuscript, but any errors are my own…?” Also, I’ve been known to call book-writing “time consuming” in my acknowledgements. But “all consuming?”
I read these things and I think two thoughts. First, that my life would be a lot easier if I had a more pompous sense of self (“I can’t empty that dishwasher! Can’t you see I’m writing this book?”) And second, since I’ve never had a life where writing a book could be all-consuming, it never has been. Perhaps if our dinner-missers had been a bit better about managing their time, and didn’t have some one enabling their all-consuming fantasies, they could have also eaten breakfast and lunch with their kids.
I was remarking about this at a “power playdate” I had recently with Amanda Steinberg, founder of DailyWorth (go sign up for their daily email if you haven’t already!) Starting a VC-backed business is also billed as an “all consuming” task. And yet here Amanda — who’s raised millions — and I were at 5pm on a Tuesday with the kids, somehow having broken free from our all-consuming professions.
Of course, some people claim parenthood is all-consuming as well. For the first few weeks, perhaps. Maybe months if you’ve got a colicky kid. Years, if you’ve got one with special needs. But for most children, even if you’re home with them full-time, eventually they start napping regularly. At some point, most go to pre-school. They hang out with your spouse or other relatives. They learn to play independently or learn to watch television. They go to bed, sometimes at early hours. And then you start to have space. First, it’s just to read a magazine article while the baby sits in the Exersaucer. Then a longer magazine article. Next thing you know, you’ve read the entire first section of the Wall Street Journal while your kids are playing in the basement. Then you have another baby (naturally). And the process starts over. But it does proceed.
To me, the idea of work-life balance means this recognition: that nothing is truly all-consuming. There is space in a full life for multiple identities — to be an entrepreneur and mother, to be a devoted volunteer and father, to be a loving family member and athlete and artist, or whatever you choose. We deny ourselves many pleasures when we think otherwise, and we enable our loved ones to limit their own lives when we let them claim that you “can’t” start a business and be an involved parent or “can’t” run a major company and have a family life too. You can. And many people do. That is worth acknowledging, whatever book acknowledgements say.