You can’t separate work and life.
I cringe every time I read or hear the phrase “work/life balance“. You can’t cut work and life in half and then plop each on a scale until you’ve achieved some kind of false equilibrium. Each is a part of the other, and you have what property lawyers call “an undivided interest in the whole”.
I first learned this to be true when I was a police officer. (Look here for another time I have written about being a police officer, and to see me younger and in uniform ;-)). At the time, officers in my city were divided into roughly 3 equal groups, each group staying together and rotating work times from days to midnights to afternoons every calendar month. My group of 8 or 10 officers was truly a team, and we socialized almost exclusively with each other. Our work lives and personal lives were entwined; we were truly a family.
Except for Ray Boehringer. Ray didn’t socialize or goof off with us. Ray was our Lieutenant and shift commander; he was our boss and he was in charge. Police work is serious business, and Ray believed that its supervision demanded a certain amount of militaristic aloofness. He wasn’t our buddy, but he cared about us and tried to guide us to be good workers, even though we were vocally critical of and often argued with the city that employed us. We called ourselves Boehringer’s Black Sheep.
Late one evening, when my team was working midnights (11 pm until 7am), I frantically called Ray about 10pm. I told him that I had just discovered that my husband (soon to be my ex-husband) had been cheating on me, and that I was so upset and stressed that I couldn’t possibly come to work. Ray immediately understood that the separation of my life from my job was impossible. He told me not to worry about it and to just keep checking in with him until I was sufficiently calmed and could do my job. I think it took me three days before I was able to come back to work, and to this day I don’t know what Ray did to keep me – and himself – out of trouble (police officers have pretty strict rules of attendance and I probably broke them all).
Ray understood, without a college education and without hearing about “work/life balance”, that I couldn’t just dismiss my personal pain and anguish to drive out into the night in my police car without potentially jeopardizing the safety of my fellow officers or a member of the community. He went out on a limb to protect that mesh of work and life, because it gave him a better work group and made him a better manager. He may not have gone out to the bar with us after work, but he knew that the intense personal life closeness between all of us was an advantage to our work relationship, and he exploited it without becoming part of it.
Ray Boehringer died a short time ago, and I thank him for this work-life lesson. RIP.