Work vs. Dreams vs. Relationships

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I have an insatiable drive to create. My mind sees new opportunities all around me—to solve problems, to build new and exciting things, and to make progress toward my goals each and every day. It’s what fuels, motivates, and excites me. 

It’s what drove me to put in the hard work and long hours to excel in my career, write my first book, develop the 3-Minute Morning Journal, create this blog, start the I Hear You relationships podcast, and much more.

Left unbridled, however, this insatiable drive also has the power to consume me. And to undermine the most important relationships in my life.

Can you relate?

If so, read on.

Balance in All Things

In an early episode of the I Hear You Podcast, I unpacked a fantastic article written by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen about how so many high-achievers work their tails off to earn money, fame, and fortune…only to discover years down that line that they did so at the expense of their marriage, their children, and their long-term happiness.

I do not want that.

And I doubt you do, either.

And yet, if you’re anything like me, the answer isn’t as simple as “just not working so much” or simply “taking more time for family.” For people like us, it doesn’t work to just retire our dreams and join the rest of the world in punching a clock and watching TV until bedtime. No, if you have a drive to do something in life, I’m a firm believer in going for it.

So what, then, is a driven, passionate, determined-to-make-great-change individual to do?

Well, I have a few thoughts. 

But in the spirit of full candor, I’m writing this for myself as much as I am for you. My wife will be the first to tell you that I struggle with breaking free from my “projects,” and I’m better some weeks than others. But I’m becoming more and more aware of it each day. And learning more and more about how I might find this balance with every passing week.

So, speaking as a fellow human on the path toward finding balance—not as someone claiming to have figured it out—I share the following steps for pursuing your dreams while also maintaining strong loving relationships.

Step 1. Identify What [Truly] Matters to You.

If you haven’t done so already, I recommend you listen to the aforementioned podcast episode, and consider reading the original article and/or book by Clayton Christensen. 

Then, take some time to write down what really matters to you in life. 

And be honest with yourself here. 

If you’re anything like me, “family and loving relationships” aren’t the ONLY things that matter to you. It’s perfectly alright—even healthy and appropriate—to have additional priorities and passions that motivate and energize you. As I often preach, we are all responsible for our own happiness. And that means being honest with ourselves about what we find fun, fulfilling, relaxing, and entertaining.

If we are to be successful in finding balance in our lives, we have to first identify what we want to find balance between. What will you be putting on each end of the scale? 

I’m assuming family relationships matter to you, or you wouldn’t be reading this. I’m also assuming elements of your work—whether it’s your career, side hustle(s), or both—also matter. Chances are good you have a hobby or passtime you particularly enjoy (golf? Swimming? Sports? etc.), so write that down as well.

For Example

My list looks like the following:

What truly matters to me in life:

  1. My relationship with my wife and children
  2. My relationship with my parents and siblings
  3. Building and creating in a way that feels meaningful and exciting
  4. Making progress toward my goals
  5. Occasional time alone (a few times/week) to clear my head, unwind, etc.
  6. Maintaining strong physical, mental, and emotional health

Step 2. Set Your Priorities 

Rarely will you be able to fulfill/work on/accomplish every item on the above list, every day. So the next question is, if something has to give, what will it be? 

Most weeks and months have enough time to fit your priorities—because you will make the time for them. But what happens when you aren’t able to fit them all? What happens if your boss schedules a meeting right over your son or daughter’s sports game? What happens if your friends invite you to a movie when you committed to yourself to work that evening on your side hustle? What if your spouse asks for some listening and validation right as you sit down to watch a show and unwind?

The above situations are tricky because there truly is no universally “right” or “wrong” answer as to which should take priority. 

Now some of you might read that and say “of course there’s a right and wrong answer! How could choosing a work meeting over supporting your child at their game be a healthy, loving choice?” 

Well, what if choosing to take the day off work to attend the game meant no money for groceries the following week? What if that particular game wasn’t as important to your child as the championship game the following week, and you explained to them in advance why you couldn’t make the former, but wouldn’t dream of missing the latter? 

Plenty of people will tell you you *should* choose social time with friends over sitting home alone, working on a side hustle. But what do you want? If skipping out on a movie night in favor of getting closer to financial freedom is what feels right to you, do it.

All I’m getting at here is that these decisions are personal. But there is a caveat: you MUST make sure you know what you’re truly giving up. Because it’s all too easy to get into the habit of chasing what we think is the most satisfying or fulfilling, only to discover later that we actually traded down.

A prime example is the parent who misses all their child’s events, or is never home for dinner with their spouse, because they’re “doing it for the family.” It’s the person who lets their relationships wither in favor of working 24/7, saying “it’s only for a short time.” It’s these individuals who don’t find balance in life who find 10 years later that they are wealthy, famous, and successful…but also lonely, stubborn, and depressed. 

I’ve yet to meet someone in that situation who doesn’t feel a deep sense of regret.

So. The goal here is to prioritize your passions in such a way that when you have to choose one over another, you decide ahead of time which one wins. Because, in the moment, such a decision may not be so easy. I find it helpful to add a little paragraph to each priority, further explaining what each priority means to me.

For Example

My prioritized list looks like the following:

  1. Myself. I will put my physical, mental, and emotional health first. Because when I’m lacking in any of these areas, I am less able to help those I love. This doesn’t mean I’ll ignore my children in favor of going to the gym, or that I’ll use my personal wants as a trump card over my other responsibilities or helping my spouse, but simply that I will be careful to not overdraw my physical, emotional, and mental bank accounts, and will make time to refill those as needed.
  2. My wife. Next to taking care of myself, I will make sure my wife knows she comes before all else. I will make sure she knows I love and support her and that I always have her back. If at any point I sense she is feeling less of a priority to my work, projects, or even the kids, I will pause and focus on her. Because our children are of utmost importance to both of us, we we will keep our marriage a priority in order to best teach, support, and love them.
  3. My children. I never want my kids to feel like work is more important than them. I never want them to question my love for them. I prioritized my personal health and marriage first because my kids mean the world to me. So, as appropriate, I will explain this to them, and teach by example the importance of taking responsibility for their own happiness, health, and connection. 
  4. My personal projects and goals. I’ve found I feel resentment toward my 9–5 job when I feel like it’s preventing my pursuit of longer-term, more fulfilling work. So, I will prioritize my passion projects and side hustles to the extent that it’s financially and professionally appropriate. This may mean getting up early to work on them, spending time on the weekends, or an hour or two in the evening. But I will aim to put these hours on my calendar first, then figure out how to make other lesser priorities fit around them.
  5. My day job. I am grateful for the work and enjoy it most days. I will strive to give my full focus and attention when I’m on the job, and will always make sure I’m putting in honest, hard work.

Step 3. Check in Regularly

Are the above priorities and explanations idealistic? Perhaps. I know from experience that they don’t magically make life easy and play out exactly as I’ve written. But the very purpose of identifying the “ideal” is to give you direction. So, as you jump back into life after setting these priorities, take a few moments every week or two and see how you’re doing.

Are you balanced? Are you more-or-less happy with how you’ve spent your time the past couple of weeks? Does that give proper attention to your highest priorities? If family, friends, or loved ones are involved, how are they feeling?

Again—not every day or week needs to be balanced between all of these things. I have weeks where I put virtually all my time and energy into work, such as when pushing for a deadline or wrapping up a major project. But I give my wife a heads up, and she agrees to it. But once that week or two is up, I need to balance it out with an appropriate amount of meaningful time with her.

So we’re looking at the rolling average here. Look at your habits and schedules over time and find a balance that feels right to you and those you love. 

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, kudos. You’re exactly where you need to be. Now I invite you to join me in actually putting it into practice. I believe we can “have it all” in life. But it’s up to us to determine what “it all” means, then fight to keep it top of mind.

What do you think? If you struggle to keep balance between relationships and other dreams and responsibilities, what has helped you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Photo by Jessica Rockowitz on Unsplash

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4 thoughts on “Work vs. Dreams vs. Relationships”

  1. James Infranca

    Loved your article. Balance is the key.

    I currently I am in the middle of a divorce, getting treatment to shrink a tumor and my soon to be x-wife is battle ulcerative colitis. And we have two small children 2 and 4. But I am are getting through this hard time in my life and know that balance in the future will be the key and setting up priorities. 90% of life is how you react to it. But Mike you knew that already.

    Thank you for all your work from your podcasts to your books.

    Jim Infranca

    1. Michael S. Sorensen

      Hi Jim,

      Terribly sorry to hear about your divorce. I can’t even imagine everything you’re going through—with that on top of the health issues. Thank you for taking the time to comment and share; I appreciate your willingness to be vulnerable. I suppose working to find balance will be a lifelong pursuit for many of us.

  2. Hello Michael

    I couldn’t agree more.. Your content makes me pause for a moment and think this is how life is suppose to be! But again we need daily dose of motivation. I am glad I opened you email and read this article plus listened to your podcast. What a great start of the day.
    A relationship is a two way equal work, but I have learnt in my new marriage the only thing you can do is work on yourself first, the changes you want to see in your relationship and your partner will eventually come. You just have to be patient. Like a tree a relationship doesn’t grows strong in days or weeks. Meanwhile just enjoy and trust the process.

    1. Michael S. Sorensen

      Hi Supam,

      Love this. So true that we have a responsibility to work on ourselves first. 90% of the time, the “problems” in our relationships have more to do with us than with the other person anyway. Thank you for taking the time to comment.


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