Work-life balance

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Frank Fidani
  • 341st Missile Wing command chief
It's a weekday, Wednesday to be precise, just a tick past 8:30 a.m. I should be at my desk, in a meeting,or out visiting Airmen in one of the many organizations on base, but I'm not. Instead I'm seated in a bus filled with Airmen outfitted in brightly colored snow gear. The sounds of their excited chatter have long since settled into the quiet din of extended travel. This is not a normal day.

It's a wing ski day, the final one of the year, and I've convinced myself and a few of my coworkers that we need to spend the day traversing the slopes of Montana's oldest ski resort. It's a chance to relax, decompress, relieve stress, chill, or, in the words of my kids' favorite movie character -- Gru, from Despicable Me -- it's an opportunity to "chillax."

It isn't easy taking the day off. Someone has to hold down the fort -- answering phone calls, attending meetings or making decisions in my stead. Looking out at the vista of snowcapped mountains, a tinge of guilt creeps into my thoughts, knowing I've transferred the burden of my responsibilities onto the shoulders of someone else. So why do it?

To answer that I'll have to take you back to a time when I wore staff sergeant chevrons. I was in my office late one evening updating a stack of lesson plans when my superintendent, who had returned to his office that night to retrieve an item he left behind, walked by my door, poked his head in and said, "Dude, que pasa?" My lame response, "I'm trying to catch up on some work" met with his disapproving east/west head shake. "Frank" he said, "no matter how hard you try, you'll never catch up. The work will always be there. It's late, go home and tackle this tomorrow." He was right of course, people have limits. Pushed too far or for too long, we become unproductive, lose focus, or, worse yet, we snap.

What my superintendent was hinting at that night was the need for work-life balance. It's a principle, a way of life if you will, that I've tried my best, regardless of assignment or position, to adhere to ever since.

Our newest Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, James Cody, conveyed a similar message at a recent Air Force Association symposium: "Sometimes we don't stop ourselves...when we get going, we throttle our Airmen up, we just go -- we go forward. And sometimes, we just have to say, stop! This is not reasonable; this is not sustainable. If we keep doing this, we will break ourselves and break ourselves hard -- and we won't have the resources to fix ourselves." Cody's answer to the dilemma is compensation, not in the form of pay and benefits but, "compensation for what we're asking [Airmen] to do over time so they can have a balanced life, so they can go home, be unplugged, be with their families, reconstitute, come back to work energized, ready to hit it again hard."

And so it is that I, along with a group of like-minded skiers and 'boarders, am enjoying a fun-filled day on breathtaking Montana ski slopes, relishing the hypnotic swish of fresh powder beneath my snowboard. Today's agenda is limited to appreciating the majestic mountain views, gliding across groomed runs, hot-dogging between tall Ponderosa pines, and taking flight over snow-capped jumps.

It dawns on me during one particularly sublime run that I wouldn't be here if it weren't for the wing commander. He set this day aside for all of us, with the intent of injecting balance into our busy schedules. It's compensatory time for working long hours, working weekends and for expertly executing our vital mission. It's an acknowledgement of the importance of striking the right work-life balance in our day-to-day activities. Who knew a Purdue University graduate could be so insightful?

As I type these final lines, Wednesday has come and gone; it's now Thursday, the always-tough-to-deal-with day after. I'm back in the office, buried in the throes of a hectic workday. The meetings, the phone calls and the activities that induce stress are upon me once again. Not to worry, I'm feeling refreshed and reinvigorated. I'm still riding the high of yesterday's outing and imagine I will be for days to come. Today is not a normal day; I feel balanced.