A young colleague recently attended a networking event where the speaker advised the room of aspiring journalists to avoid balance in their lives. “Really successful people,” the speaker averred, “don’t have balance.”
“Is this true?” my young colleague wanted to know.
My answer went like this: It partly depends on who you are, and how you define success. A lot of highly successful people have productive careers, but end up unhappy and alone.
Meanwhile, other successful people do seem to be able to have it all. In fact, their outside interests and diversions sometimes help them sustain their careers — and outlast their competitors in the long run.
“Let’s take Tiger Woods,” I continued, “he dedicated his life to golf, and he gained fame and fortune, but he also lost his family. His identity was tied to golf, and now that he’s struggling, one assumes this takes a psychological toll, compounding the problem.”
A couple days after our conversation, the HuffPost’s Jon Ward tweeted this Thomas Boswell column about Tiger Woods’ quest to win more majors than Jack Nicklaus. It seems to confirm my take.
Here’s an excerpt:
When Nicklaus was in his mid-30s, I began covering golf for The Post. The contrast between Jack then and Tiger now is extreme.
Nicklaus was still in his physical and golfing prime as he approached 40. He played a limited schedule to keep his body from breaking down. By spending time with his wife and five children, he stayed mentally sharp for majors. Chi Chi Rodriguez called him “a legend in his spare time.” (Emphasis mine.)
Nobody knows whether or not Woods will match or surpass Nicklaus, but what was once considered a foregone conclusion now seems dubious. At this point, Nicklaus’ marathon approach to life and work seems like a smarter strategy than Woods’ sprint.
The same rules, I think, apply to journalism (and, no doubt, other professions). I’ve seen the stars who burn so bright that they burn out. They quit, get addicted, sick, or even die.
Others are always on the road — always attending one more happy hour with sources — one more trip to wherever — and their families fall apart.
Are they successful?
It’s much wiser, I think, to have an integrated life where work and play are somewhat blended. In this regard, my approach is that I’m hardly ever working and I’m hardly ever not working. You’re always learning — always thinking about ideas or your next column. But you can often do that at the playground with your kids. In fact, you’re probably more likely to have an epiphany in the shower than at your desk.
This is not to say that this is always the case. Every job has a “Super Bowl” — an occasion when you have to put work first and pull a few “all-nighers” to get the job done. People who aren’t willing to make these kinds of occasional sacrifices — especially when they are just starting out and are “paying their dues” — won’t survive.
But there is a difference between the occasional and the routine. As Rick Warren recently noted, “If you’re burning the candle at both ends you’re not as bright as you think.”
Woods may still be somewhat glamorous, but, given the choice, I think the wiser move is to emulate Nicklaus. Or as Gustave Flaubert put it: “Be regular and ordinary in your life, like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”