Nobody on their deathbed has ever said, "I wish I had spent more time at the office."
That's an old saying attributed to now-deceased Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas. It was a quote made further famous by author Anna Quindlen who referenced it in a commencement speech given at Villanova University.
While it's easy to see what the remark means, it's only true for a part of the population. For the workaholics and the career-before-family folks, the idea that being at work too much led to other sacrifices may ring true in your final moments.
Others, the people who placed short-term pleasure over longer-term goals, may feel very different. As they lay on their deathbeds, those people may wish they had spent more time at work.
Call it the Goldilocks conundrum. Both directions, too much or too little, can be bad, but either side can adjust until it's "just right."
It's all about balance
At various times in life, people with lofty professional goals will have no choice but to sacrifice personal time for work time. That's true early in your career or in various parts of your education. A young lawyer seeking to make partner can't clock out at 5 p.m., and a doctor working as an intern can't say no to overnight shifts.
What those people can do is have a goal and rebalance their life when they get there. It's easy to go from one all-in career step to the other, but that can be a lonely journey. Instead, it's important to find times in between those all-encompassing work periods for a personal life. It's also important to have a goal in mind where when you get there you have earned the right to have a personal life.
The same thing goes for the people who value their personal life over their professional one. It's fine to spend some time, even years, following your bliss, but it's equally important to find a balance especially if a spouse or kids become involved.
Having mom or dad around more may be better than the latest sneakers or a trip to someplace fancy. It's not better than having enough food or a decent place to live.
It's not easy to find
As an incredibly lazy student who turned into someone with decidedly workaholic tendencies, I've experienced both sides of the coin. In my current role as a contract writer for Motley Fool, where I get paid for the work I do on a by-piece basis, it's easy to give into the work-over-everything attitude.
The more I work, the more money I make and that's good for my wife and son. But having me sitting on the couch typing away instead of being present has its drawbacks too.
It's a struggle, but I actually have a system in place to ensure that I'm a good provider and a decent father/husband. I have a goal amount of work to do each week and I try to do that in equal pieces each day, but if an opportunity to do more presents itself while my wife is at work or my son is at school, I take it.
That frees me up to be available when they are most of the time and sometimes even allows for a guilt-free "hooky" day where I do no work at all. That's rare, but it's an allowed indulgence because I've found a way to create balance.
Be the best you
Obviously being self-employed gives me more flexibility than most, but those with a traditional job can usually carve out a balance too. Sometimes that means doing work at odd hours in order to be at family dinners or to have time with loved ones. In others it's simply a case of doing the best you can to support yourself and your family financially as well as emotionally.
Of course the same applies to the person who tips toward the personal over work. That man or woman needs to consider his or her financial responsibilities and balance those against putting his or her personal life over everything.
Balance isn't easy (if it was, learning how to skate or ride a bike wouldn't be so challenging). In the end though, finding a balance between work and your personal life should lead to a happier existence and fewer deathbed regrets.
The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.