So much of what we read emphasizes that we need to balance work and family life – to make sure that we’re paying equal attention to both “sides” of our lives. In fact, in some larger corporations, there are seminars and other training tools used to help people who are striving for this balance.

I can remember a point in my life when I had a job I loved, and a family I loved (both still true, by the way), but each certainly came into conflict with the other, and more than once in awhile. Two incidents haunt me still – in the first, I was on vacation with my family in a theme park and called into a consulting client of mine to check on a project.  I was on the phone and a theme park employee dressed as the Sheriff of Nottingham – (at least I think he was an employee) – was trying to take the phone away from me.  I laughed, realizing how crazy it was for me to be on the phone while on vacation… but it didn’t stop me from doing similarly silly things while on other vacations.

At another time, I was late for one of my kids’ Little League games, having just returned from a business trip, and as I pulled up to the field I saw my son drop a pop-up. I can remember the guilty thought that popped into my head after that pop-up – “If only I spent more time with him playing catch, he would have caught that ball!”

Other parents, and non-parents, too, face struggles and guilt when we think of the trade-offs we make between work and the rest of our lives. Even those of us who love our work, and see it as an integral part of who we are as people, make these trade-offs.  So, are we left to depression and guilt? Is the water cooler drink of choice some liquid form of Prozac?

I think the answer – for those who have jobs and for those who are looking for jobs – lies not in the trade-off but in the consciousness (“Take that, Freud!). What I mean is that we may never achieve perfect balance; that is a fairy tale. Instead, what we ought to strive to achieve is an understanding of the trade-offs we make and continually evaluate if we’re satisfied with them. No one can guarantee us that work and the other parts of our lives will be equal, but it’s up to us to try to make the trade-offs make sense for what’s important to us.

That is, it’s up to each of us what kind of tale we want to write.