The trial of balancing work and family

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- The unfortunate paradox of the workplace is this: People who work the hardest at their jobs are generally rewarded with more work, greater responsibility, more demands on their time and further competition for the precious moments spent with loved ones.

This unfortunate paradox of the workplace can lead to some rather peculiar challenges. A famous quote attributed to Union Gen. Lew Wallace states, "One is never more on trial than in the moment of excessive good fortune."

Most of us have likely read about, or personally known, individuals or organizations who have found themselves on "trial" as a result of what might be called "excessive good fortune," i.e., being known for their successful, high-quality work.

Unfortunately, hubris is often the result of this "excessive good fortune." For example, we've all witnessed a winning season for one of our favorite teams end with a needless loss due to half-hearted play or over confidence. Conceivably, corporations, small businesses, management teams and business executives can lose their "edge" as a result of excessive growth and large profits. In recent years, even the military has been stung when exceptional individuals in leadership positions get, what my mother was fond of saying, "too big for their britches."

Thankfully, this negative result of "excessive good fortune" is not universal. Many sporting teams, organizations, managers and leaders are quietly, but diligently, laboring to achieve their best every day. They have not lost their competitive spirit, there is still fire in their bellies and their passion for what they do is self-evident. This excellence is demonstrated in our military each day with the crisp salute of a proud American standing sentry at any one of our military bases across the world; in the young Airman who is working long hours on a hot, dusty flight line in some remote location far from home; by the hours and hours of cockpit training that results in the perfect execution of a complex series of maneuvers during an air show or a combat sortie; by the many medical professionals who unselfishly and compassionately deliver healthcare to thousands of patients each day. I'm proud to serve in the United States Air Force where thousands of Airmen show up daily, often early to work and then late to home, in service of our great nation.

I am convinced that by and large, most of us within the United States Air Force are trying to do the very best we can to serve our nation, take care of our families and friends as well as be good wingmen for our fellow airmen. However, it seems that the more competent we become at our vocation, the less time we have for vacation and recreation. Based on my personal observation, the anecdotal evidence suggests that most of us are trying hard to conscientiously balance our personal needs with the demands of our vocation, the profession of arms. Even though we try, many of us probably spend too much time at work and too little time with our families.

General Wallace was correct, "good fortune" does put us on "trial." My prayer is that the evidence presented at our "trial" is exculpatory, that is, the potential negative aftermath of "excessive good fortune" destroys none of us. Someday our Air Force careers will come to an end; there will be a transition to another career or a permanent retirement. At that moment, may our "good fortune" be the preservation of our health, personal relationships, marriages, families and friendships so that, when we reflect on the wonderful opportunities we've had to serve this great nation, we can celebrate the irrefutable "good fortune" of lives well lived.