Last year, while driving to work, I heard an entertaining story on the radio. After Peyton Manning signed a mega deal to become the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback, local reporters were eager to talk to him. His arrival in Denver was highly publicized, but since being flown in on the team’s private jet, no one had seen Manning around town, and no one knew where he was living. A journalistic manhunt yielded no trace of the star football player, and he was rumored to have left the Denver area. Several days later, Manning was found.
Where was he? He was reviewing game film and practicing nearly 24 hours a day. No one knew where he was living because he didn’t have a house; he was eating, sleeping and training at the team’s practice facility. Manning didn’t want to waste time commuting, and he didn’t want to spend his time on anything but football. He was dedicating all of his time to being the very best quarterback that he could be. Manning’s passion to succeed meant that he had to focus solely on football. As a result, he wasn’t living a well-balanced life.
I recently had a conversation with some young lawyers about the topic of life balance, and it startled me how many of them believed it was easily achievable. Unfortunately, life balance doesn’t exist in its most ideal form – it’s impossible to be great at more than just a couple of things in life. You may be a fantastic parent and a great lawyer, but if you dedicate time to becoming an actor, your roles as a parent and lawyer will suffer. After all, something’s got to give.
Think about the different facets in our lives that compete for our time: career, child, sibling, spouse, parent, friend, [insert your own hobby here], etc. Now consider whether it’s possible to commit the time and energy to be great at all of them. It’s not. Many of us are good at a lot of things, but if we want to truly become the best we can in a specific area of life, we have to forgo life balance altogether. If we try to become great in each area of our lives, we slip into the common category of “Jack of all trades, master of none.”
If you’re a well-rounded person with a well-balanced life, you probably don’t have enough time to become the best at something. For example, if you’re striving to be the very best lawyer in your field, you don’t work 9 to 5. You get to the office early. You stay in the office late. You work weekends and, if you aren’t in the office, you take work home and hope your family understands. You give a piece of yourself to your work and your clients, and that’s one less piece you can give to someone or something else.
Just like we can’t be everything to everyone, we certainly can’t be everything we’ve always wanted to be – not because we’re not capable, but because we simply don’t have the time. If you’re a great lawyer, you’ll never have the time to be a professional poker player. If you’re a competitive marathon runner, the time you dedicate to your training is time away from being a great spouse and father. To become one of the best in your field, you have to devote Manning-like focus and time. If Manning spent less time on the practice field and more time working on his golf swing, he probably wouldn’t be the future Hall of Fame quarterback he is today.
A few years ago, I was talking to a friend who was just finishing his residency. He talked about the discipline and sacrifice it would take to be considered one of the best in his field. He told me about a doctor who was often regarded as the best brain surgeon in the world. The doctor was on-call and available to go into surgery 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If he had ever taken a vacation, no one could remember it. Despite earning millions of dollars, the doctor lived in a small apartment next door to the hospital so that he could always be within five minutes of his work. To be the best brain surgeon in the world, he was willing to make a lot of personal sacrifices.
Life isn’t about finding a good balance; it’s about finding the balance that brings you the most joy.