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Green Building Advisor

Work-Life Integration

If you love the work you do, thank your lucky stars —
and feed that passion on whatever schedule works for you

By Michael Chandler | July 22, 2010

Planning the next backyard building project with my twelve-year-old daughter. Note the artwork on the ceiling. Image Credit: Beth Williams

We all know people who hate their jobs and count the days until Friday or retirement. And we know folks who live for expensive hobbies and passions that consume their paychecks, or who count their worth by the size of their compensation package.

When I think about being a builder, I like to look back on the farmer I worked for as a teenager. He was defined by his job, and he really ran a tight ship with a small herd of carefully bred cows that gave his life a rhythm that had nothing to do with 9-to-5. Rather than counting the days to retirement, he was counting the days until his son was mature enough to become a partner and eventually to take over the farm.

When I think about sustainable business, I look back in time for inspiration.

I want to be a builder the way that man was a farmer, or perhaps the way Paul Revere was a silversmith, riding around shouting “peak oil is coming!”

I don’t turn my cell phone off at five. Today I’m on vacation in England, photographing plumbing and electrical connections and awesome metal and stone details. Next month I’ll be at Joe Lstiburek’s building science summer camp.

My sister worries that I work too much — but the reality is that my hobby pays my bills.

Passing the lottery test

The test I use for work-life balance is how little my life would change if I suddenly had an extra five million in my checking account. Like the farmer who won the lottery and said he’d just keep farming until it’s gone, my retirement dream is to build ever-wilder stuff until they put me in a box.

While getting the designs out and maintaining work flow and my clients’ budgets can be a chore, I find at the end of the year that I’m doing what I love and making a go of it. I do track my hours per week and days spent away from the job. My Builder 20 Club competes to see who can run a well-managed business with the fewest hours per week and the most days away from work.

I really agree with Michael Strong’s recommendation to leave your crew in charge of the business for extended periods, to build their leadership skills and self-reliance and to empower them to eventually take over the business. I also love Beverly Koehn’s concept of “living your brand,” where you strive to embody the core principles of your business in your day-to-day life.

So here I am at 1:00 pm in the Heart and Hand pub in Brighton, England with pen and paper, a camera full of construction photos, a Dark Star Sunburst Ale in front of me with my twelve-year-old daughter drawing plans for our next project beside me. Nothing wrong with that at all. I say to hell with work-life separation — replace it with work-life integration and inspiration!

Drink plenty of water
If you love the work you do, thank your lucky stars and feed that passion on whatever schedule works for you.

Chase excellence with all you’ve got. But hold family and mental health first — for you as well as for your employees. Take time off for the school recital or vacation trip or just to drive your teenager to the mall with the cell phone and the I-pod turned off. Track your hours and days-off as a self-check so you know actually how crazy or sane you’re treating yourself.

Work safely, too — drink plenty of water and remember there is no nobility in working through the pain of injuries or sickness.

Integrate work and life deliberately and with integrity This business is a bit like alchemy. We may not turn lead into gold but we do turn sticks and earth into beautiful homes that perform economically and elegantly — and there is magic in that beyond the nine to five.

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