Darren Rowse is the pro blogger and I mean that literally, as he is the man behind ProBlogger.
Darren made his start with blogging back in 2002 when he created Living Room : A Space for Life after reading an article about blogging.
Since that time, Darren has created a reputation as someone that is a go-to resource for information on blogging as well as digital photography.
If that were not enough to keep one person busy, he also co-founded the global blog network b5media and is the VP of Blogger Training.
Darren recently shared some of his time with me as I interviewed him about how he has learned to balance the needs of his family with the demands of building a successful blogging career out of his home office.
Can you please tell me a little about your family? How many kids do you have? How old are they?
My family is fairly small at the moment – (both in number and height).
I have been married for five and a half years to ‘V’ and have a 17 month old son Xavier.
Can you provide a little bit of background on your career and professional interests?
My career these days revolves around blogging. I’ve been blogging for exactly five years (almost to the day) but started out with it purely as a hobby/interest in my spare time – but in that time it’s gradually become an income and full time (and more) business. Previously I had been working a number of jobs (quite often a number of part time ones at once) mainly in churches as a minister and youth worker.
How would you define work-life balance?
It’s an interesting term and one that I’ve become a little uncomfortable with because it seems to almost separate ‘work’ and ‘life’ from one another as though they mutually exclusive. I hear a lot of people talking about their work life and their family life and their spiritual life and their sex life…. as if they have lots of separate lives. I’m not sure they really mean it – but I guess I’ve been working hard lately to see a bit more integration between them.
I’ve come to discover in the last few years that work is a wonderful part of life – I actually enjoy it a lot and celebrate it as something central in my life.
Having said that – I think that many elements of life can become out of balance when we obsess over them. For some the temptation is to make work the dominant thing in your life, for others it’s another person, for others it’s an obsession with exercise, for some it’s a hobby, for others it’s…. ((insert vice here)).
So for me it’s probably not just about work-life balance but a whole life balance (hmm – that came out more muddled than it was in my head!)
Do you feel that dads have a harder time achieving work-life balance than moms? If so, how?
I can’t speak for all cultures – but I know here in Australia there is an expectation that many males feel that success and self worth comes from the work you do and the success that you have in it. It’s very easy to get sucked into the myth that ‘you are what you earn’ or ‘you are what your job title says you are’. I suspect women feel these pressures too – but I talk to a lot of guys who feel it.
What do you personally find is your biggest struggle to achieving a healthy work-life balance?
For me there are a number of temptations when it comes to my work.
For starters there’s never enough time to do even a small percentage of the opportunities that I see around me. If there were 10 cloned Darren Rowse’s I’m sure I’d still have more things that I could do with their 240 hours a day! So the temptation is to fill up any ‘spare’ time that I might have with work rather than other things that I value (like family, friends, rest).
Secondly there’s the temptation that my workspace provides me – because it’s just in the next room. Working from home has it’s advantages but it’s disadvantages also. Add to that that I have wifi through the house and can bring my work into the family room – and that I have mobile broadband and can bring my work into outings, vacations etc and if I wasn’t careful work could become too dominant in my life quite easily.
Lastly – one of the increasingly common opportunities that comes my was is speaking opportunities. This is wonderful as I love to communicate and enjoy public speaking – however most of them are on the other side of the world. I live in Australia and a trip to the US or the UK even just to speak for a day actually takes a week out of my life with preparation, travel and recovery and this places pressure on family to cope without me.
What do you remember from your own childhood with regard to your dad’s work-life balance? Was he around or always busy working? How has that influenced your own views on the subject?
My father is a minister and has worked in churches all my life. This has impacted me profoundly on numerous fronts. For starters it has shaped some of my own career/vocational aspirations over the last 15 years.
Secondly he structured some of his work around a home office. This meant that we often saw him when we got home from school and that he was very involved in our lives (many afternoons of backyard cricket, playing tennis etc with him). This is something that I’m happy to be able to do for my family too and I love the fact that I see my son throughout each day. I hope to do this for the rest of my life.
Lastly, the pressures of his work did at times take him away from home in the evenings or brought his work to our house (meetings etc). This is something that he did quite well to balance – however at times his work did intrude a little into family life. This wasn’t anywhere near the extent that it could have – but I guess it’s something that I’m aware of.
How have you learned to identify when your work-life balance is too far out of balance in one direction?
I have three great signals:
- my Wife is great at telling me when I’m out of balance
- my Son has inherited his Mother’s ability
- my body tends to crash when I work too hard
What is one of the biggest mistakes that you have made with regard to work-life balance?
Before I started blogging as a living I was working in a church where I was putting in enormous hours. I was also studying part time and had just gotten married. My body couldn’t cope and I suffered for a number of months with Bells Palsy (a facial paralysis). The virus that was behind it (something that attacked my optical nerve) was caused by stress and lack of rest. The night before it hit me I’d been at a meeting until 2am after a long week of stressful work.
The experience was a frightening one – I initially thought I’d had a stroke and it impacted me to the point that I lost all balance and was bed ridden for weeks and unable to work for months. I learned a lot at that time about listening to my body and being more balance.
Have you faced any stigmas or criticism for focusing on your own work-life balance? Do you think focusing on your family has impacted your career? If so, how?
Not really. That’s not to say that the balancing act is easy or that I always get it right – but I’m not sure others have really made too much comment about it.
What is one thing that you wish you knew at an earlier age with regard to work-life balance? That is to say, what is one piece of advice that you would give to a new dad as he struggles to find his work-life balance?
One of the things I learned around the time that my Son began to work was the power of the ‘door’.
My office has a door (radical isn’t it) and I use it as a signal to my family. When it’s open anyone can walk in and I give them my full attention. But when it’s closed it’s a signal that Dad’s at work. I can still be ‘disturbed’ when the door is shut – but I guess as a family we realized that if I was disrupted all day every day that business would suffer and as a result so would our income and ability to pay the bills.
I think it’s about establishing healthy boundaries and then finding ways to enforce them.
How has your work life balance changed since you had kids and do you think it has changed for the better or worse?
It has forced me to take a good hard look at my work, my priorities and who I am as a person. I work less these days – but enjoy it as much as I used to (if not more).
Do you think your work life balance has changed as your kids have gotten older? How?
I’m probably a little too early into being a Dad to make too many observations about this. I can see that family will demand more of my focus as they grow in size and number. This worries me a little at times but I’m sure we’ll adapt to the challenges that it brings.
How important do you think it is to find time for just you and your spouse without the kids?
It’s essential. Not easy at times – but so important. We’re lucky to have three sets of parents and a lot of great friends who love to babysit which does enable V and I to have ‘dates’ – but it is something we should more.
What tips do you have to “unplug” from work? Can you completely unplug?
We just took a vacation. I resisted the temptation to take my laptop and mobile broadband and kept my phone switched off most the time. It’s about being disciplined and realizing that you’re not indispensable.
What activities and/or interests do you pursue as a means of relaxation?
I enjoy photography, reading, watching sport and traveling.
Darren, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences on how you have approached finding a balance between your family and your work.