When Juggling Work-Life Balance, Don’t Revert to the High School You

November 29, 2011

A high school reunion is not only the perfect place to people watch, but also lets you reflect on what’s really important on a daily basis.

I had the honor/privilege/obligation of attending my husband’s high school reunion over the Thanksgiving weekend. I haven’t attended any of my own, feeling that Facebook pretty much allows me to catch up with the former classmates who are important to me. But my husband was looking forward to his, and I was happy to tag along.

It was a fascinating evening of people watching. Since the other guests neither knew me nor would ever see me again, I felt almost no pressure to chit-chat, be lively or entertaining, or feign interest in the details of their lives. I sat back with my glass of white wine, munching on a crab cake, happy to just watch. And listen. It’s interesting to hear people sum up their lives in 30 seconds. That’s about what you get. 30 seconds to sum up the last 20 years of your life before moving on to cocktail party small talk.

I’m an accountant in Baltimore and I have three kids. I just moved to Singapore to run my company’s Far East division. I never got married.

Or in my husband’s case: I got my MD/PhD and have been a stay at home dad to our four kids for the last decade.

Some of his classmates had achieved their idealized form of work-life balance - all work and no life. Some were clearly still dating high-school style. Most were married, had one, two, or three kids (no one beat our four). They have nice, comfortable jobs. They are very much like us. We traded tales of trying to get kids to sleep before heading out to the reunion or compared the public and private school systems in whatever city in which we live.

I bet almost no one ended up exactly how they thought they’d be 20 years after high school graduation. Hopefully, most of them, like my husband and I, ended up exactly where we never knew we wanted to be.

It puts a lot of things in perspective - to consider what it is that you can say about yourself after 20 years of adulthood. What you’re really proud of. What you still want to do in whatever time you have left. What you hope no one ever finds out about you. I think that type of perspective can help in making all those day-to-day choices that seem so important at the time but actually don’t matter much at all. You realize that most people turn out just fine, whether they made the basketball team or not or whether they got a C in chemistry or an A.

It makes me stop to consider what things are of a high-school level of importance - things that appear to be urgent, fantastically important this week, but which matter not one iota come the next high school reunion.

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