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The art of work, life balance

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Derrick Harrison
  • 621st Air Mobility Advisory Group
TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- As we progress through the enlisted and officer ranks, we start to gain additional tasks, duties and personnel concerns. Your career is no longer just about you, but includes the Airmen you lead on a daily basis. Sometimes we get so consumed with making sure the mission and the people are taken care of, we forget to take care of ourselves. 

I have been to numerous conferences and leadership off-sites that are designed to help establish a sustainable work-life balance, but all that seems to happen is I get behind on work. 

As a superintendent, we tell the Airmen we lead to go home and spend time with their families or take a knee. The funny thing about that is we as leaders do not follow our own advice. We sometimes show up early in the morning and leave after most have gone home.

We often eat lunch in our office or forget to eat lunch at all. Let’s not talk about breaking away during a duty day for physical training because that would be a monumental feat. Throughout my career, I sat, watched and learned from leaders that turned the lights on in the morning, shut them off at night and occasionally, worked a few hours on weekends. When I say occasionally, I mean every weekend. My fellow Airmen and I imitated those actions because we wanted to be just like those leaders. We did not have any children at the time and my wife worked too, so we were good, right? The grind continued through various deployments, 9/11 and several bumps in rank. 

Fast forward to 2012. I am now a senior master sergeant and my wife is pregnant with our first child. This was going to be a piece of cake. My wife was going to have the baby, I would do my 10 days of paternity leave, complete with a few “baby talk sessions,” and I was back to the grind. It is funny how fast life comes at you, because the pregnancy did not go as planned and my daughter had to spend 70 days in the neonatal intensive care unit. The whole time I struggled with establishing my work-life balance. I never learned, never desired to learn how to deal with any of this. I still had things to accomplish and mentors to make proud. This life-changing event forced me to start to dial it back, a little.

We left for Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, shortly after my daughter was born and things were going to be great. I started a new job with the 45th Intelligence Squadron and things were about to get back to normal. My wife took some time off from work to be home with our daughter, which took a little stress off of the family. I guess life saw me reverting back to my old self and threw me another curve ball. Our 6-month old was diagnosed with a perforated appendix and had to have surgery. Yes, a 6-month old had an appendectomy and she still marvels at the scar on her tummy. You would think I would have learned my lesson after that one, but a few other events had to happen, which caused me to take a knee and wonder if it was time to hang up the uniform.

I was encouraged by several peers and mentors in my circle of trust to continue serving in this great Air Force of ours. In order for me to do that, I had to make some changes to my work-life balance. I have started to make events that I may have been too busy for in the past. My new hobbies are Deejaying with actual vinyl records, playing the Lego Batman video game with my daughter and running at least two half marathons a year. I communicate more with my family so we have a game plan for official Air Force functions, temporary duty and short tours which allows us to spend more time together.

I share my story in hopes that it helps our Airmen realize how important it is to have balance and take the time to enjoy time away from work. It took the better part of a 24-year career for me to even acknowledge the need for work-life balance, and I’m still learning.