Balance: Myth and Reality

Ugh, if I read one more article about work-life balance that doesn’t provide any useful ideas or solutions I may have to vomit.  Seriously people, I understand we are all very busy but can’t the media take a bit of time to come up with something useful for the average person.

It’s interesting that we tend to paint ourselves as the hero (or heroine) of our story, we are suffering in our daily struggle, but that is to be accepted.  After all, there really isn’t anything to do to improve our work-life balance.  Technology has invaded our personal life and now work won’t leave us alone even when we are at home.  Then there are the constant cut backs at work that squeeze more and more effort out of our remaining time there so we have no choice but to work longer to keep things up.  Yet there is one big problem with this paragraph: it is utter bullshit.

So without further ado let’s deconstruct the myths in that last paragraph:

  1. Technology has invaded our personal lives – This is so common of a myth that people complain about it on their bloody personal phones as an issue.  So here is the reality, take some control and ownership of the issue.  First disable all those horrible notifications on your apps.  You don’t need a ping noise every time someone likes your last Facebook post so turn it off.  Then turn off all the other ones except perhaps the ones you do actually find useful…like when someone texts you.  Then proceed to develop some healthy habits with your phone…like it is ok to ignore it while driving.  The world won’t end if the other person has to wait 10 minutes until you are home to answer a text.  Then also learn it is ok not to read your work email after hours.  I glace at the title of my emails and unless it is in all caps saying “ANSWER THIS NOW OR YOUR ARE FIRED” I will get to it tomorrow.
  2. We have no choice to work longer to keep things up – I really hate statements like this, but in fact just because the choice is not very pleasant doesn’t mean you can’t make a choice.  I personally choose to put in my agreed 40 or so hours a week and then forget about it.  I do the best I can, but realized years ago that I’m NEVER getting caught up on my work.  Because even if I managed to do that they would just give me more to do.  So by working longer hours all you are doing is putting a band aid on a gun shot wound.  Face the fact that you don’t have enough resources or you are doing things you don’t need to do. Learn to say to requests, “That’s nice, but I can’t help you.” or go with the classic “No!”.  By working longer, you are just making things worse for yourself.
  3. We are suffering in our daily struggle, but that is to be accepted – Dear lord, what the hell is wrong with you people that you thinking suffering is to be accepted or normal?!?! Suffering isn’t normal and frankly a lot of your issues are of your own making.  You worry what others think of your work (ie: should I put this in the report, will they get mad at me for telling them someone bad?), you don’t want to be the guy that leaves early or comes in late or you think that if you suffer long enough you will get some sort of reward.  Screw all that you can’t control what other people think of you so stop worrying about it.  I personally always put the bad news in my reports (otherwise how do management know about it?), I occasionally come in late because of traffic or leave early because I have nothing I can get done in 10 minutes anyway.  Then lastly, suffering never results in a promotion, sorry to shatter your illusions.

Then of course there is the ultimate solution to work-life balance…work less!  Shocking I know but the majority of people I know really shouldn’t be working full time based on what they have going on in their lives.  So either get rid of more of your life or get rid of more of your work.  Then you have a hope to hit a balance point but the in mean time stop beating on your head and complaining about the headache…instead try something novel like do something about it.

This rant was brought to you by coffee, too much work and inspired by the Globe and Mail.

How Isn’t Investing the Same as Gambling?

I like to bet on sports, mainly hockey and NFL football, which I also enjoy watching. Before I make a bet (my normal bet being somewhere between $2-$5), I do some basic research on the money I’m about to wager. I look at the piles of information available (for non sports fans, you would be amazed at the tomes of information compiled in support of a 60-minute game) and make my pick, laying money down and hoping that the hypothesis I had about the game was correct.

This past Sunday, I felt that the Indianapolis Colts would win at a margin higher than the posted “line” of 3.5 points. I played for higher odds and bet they would win by 7 points. If you were to look at the score of the game they played in, you would see that I was completely wrong with my bet (not only didn’t they win by 7, they lost by 17). A loss betting is not good, as you lose 100% of the wagered amount, which is the reason why I keep my bets small enough to make watching the game interesting to me, while minimizing the impact of the losses on my available betting money.

For me, Investing works the same – prior to investing – whether it’s in a house, individual stocks or bonds, or Exchange Traded Funds, I research thoroughly (there is actually less information on a lot of investments than there is on sports games). I filter through all of the information and make my investment decision based on what I’ve read. As I invest, similar to when I bet on a football game, I have a story of why I’m making the particular investment I’m making, as well as an expected outcome of the money I have laid down.

To me, the main difference between sports betting and investing is the amount of faith I put into the information available. While there have been cases of falsified information, management and the auditors hired by corporations have much more to lose when they make reports on companies than some guy who makes a living selling pageviews on a sports website. Another difference is the “soft” decline offered by stock investment, compared to a binary win or lose outcome of a football game. Any company I’m investing in at least has assets that can be sold off which I have a chance at receiving some money for if the company fails.

Both sports betting and investing depend on third parties acting out the hypothesis you have in place for them – whether it’s a projected 7 point win for the Indianapolis Colts, or by maintaining the current market share and profitability in the long-term for a company I’m investing in. I’m sure other people may see it differently, but I see both of these activities as somewhat risky, just in different ways. It’s for this reason I’m much more willing to sink thousands of dollars in the stock market and a very tiny fraction of this amount into sports betting.

When you “pull the trigger” on an investment, how do you convince yourself you’ve made the right decision out of the thousands of things you could invest in?

Winter Activities

As I’ve written previously, my wife and I basically hibernate in the winter – spending most of our time holed up in our house and staying as warm as possible. Last winter, we noticed that we barely socialized at all. Although we’re mostly okay with that, it is nice to see people the odd weekend, so this winter we’re going to make more of an effort to hang out with friends on a more regular basis. In the summer, I have a built-in excuses to hang out with people – either through golfing or by inviting people over for barbecues and to visit on our patio. This winter, we needed new plans.

I really like to cook, so that’s one way to get people to our house – have a Pad Thai night, which most people usually enjoy, and is quick and easy to cook for a few people with most of the prep work done before people show up. Tacos are also lots of fun to do – getting the cast-iron pan glowing in order to make home-made masala flour soft-shells (our favourite).

Another activity that we both enjoy is boardgames. We’ve found a few couples who share this interest, and it’s mostly making the minor effort to set up a “play-date” together on a Friday or Saturday night to get together. Right now, we’ve found that good “couples” games are Settlers of Catan and Cards Against Humanity. I prefer more strategic games, and own the Euro-Games Agricola and Carcassonne. The games I like are significantly less social in nature, and require a lot more planning and long-term strategy than the 2 previous games, but are an excellent way to pass a cold winter afternoon or evening.

I also seem to read much more in the winter – attacking many more of the almost infinite books I’ve placed on my “To Read” list on Goodreads. Additionally, I try to increase my days in the gym from an average of two to three days a week to three to four days, attempting to balance my lack of movement from spending time indoors.

The thing that most of the activities need to have in common for us is that they’re cheap and don’t require us to be outside at all. We don’t like the cold, but are hoping that winter will go more quickly if we share our misery with our friends.

How do you plan to pass the winter?