It’s the American Dream. Graduate from a prestigious college, secure a job in a field where you make enough money to send your kids to good schools, and retire with enough savings and investments to live comfortably. At least that’s what everyone says is the American Dream. But what if all that work isn’t actually worth the cost?
It wasn’t for Bruce Webster.
The American Dream?
Bruce graduated with a degree in electrical engineering and was commissioned as an officer in the United States Air Force. After five years of service, he stepped away from the military and joined the world of engineering from the civilian side. For the next 36 years, he lived what many would call the American Dream. He held a dozen different positions at many different levels where he worked with a huge spectrum of technologies. And on top of all that, he had a loving wife, five kids and a dog.
But despite the glamour of making money and earning a good reputation in his company, Bruce said he began to realize how his work life affected his home life. And it wasn’t exactly what you’d call a positive effect.
“The two primary impacts that work had on my home life (were) time and stress,” Bruce said. “High-tech jobs are often characterized by these two factors, and mine was no exception. A 40-hour week is a myth in these types of jobs. Typically, 50-60 hours are the norm, especially as project deadlines near.”
It wasn’t just the time he spent at work, either. Having a high-stress job meant he was often thinking or worrying about work even outside the office. Which, he explained, robbed him of time with family as well as leisure and rest.
“Also, the emotional, mental and physical stress that comes with much of this work adds to the inherent stress of not spending enough time with family,” he said. “The result is an unhealthy lifestyle that, over time, can have a detrimental effect on the family.”
Bruce said his wife would often ask if there was a light at the end of the work tunnel. She would tell him she could handle his long, stressful work hours if she knew there was an end in sight.
“That was her way of saying, ‘This better not be the norm from now on, because if it is, then we need to have a serious talk.’ ” Bruce said. “Her patience, support and willingness to hang in there helped us get through some of the more challenging demands that work had placed on my life.”
Learning what caused most of his stress, Bruce said he began setting up boundaries by blocking out time to spend with family and time to pray through the stress. He started with drawing the line at not working on Sundays. Dedicating that time to family and rest helped him deal with the stress of the office.
“Finally, when I had a bit more flexibility in my work schedule and was able to work flexible hours, I made it a point to attend almost all of my children’s sports and other school events,” Bruce explained. “I found that there was an amazing refreshment that came from watching and enjoying my children perform on the athletic field or on the stage.”
Know What Lasts
What advice would he give to others trying to achieve the American Dream while at the same time have a life outside of work?
“The work you do and the accomplishments you achieve for the company or for the business pale in comparison to the fruits of your investment of time and energy in your family and other human beings,” Bruce said. “The former pass away and are soon forgotten; the latter are your legacy and last through eternity.”
Bruce says to set up your priorities ahead of time and then stick to them. Talk with your spouse about time management, and work together to seek a way forward to move past the stress and unhealthy work-life balance.
If he could go back to his early professional years and give himself some advice?
“Don’t get frustrated in the moment. A career is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Think long term and don’t get impatient with transient roadblocks or frustrations.”
No job is worth risking your health and those you love. Because who wants the American Dream without the love of family?