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How I learned my lessons in work-life balance
Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore National Memorial, shown here in a July 12 photo, is a famous South Dakota landmark, and its faces also teach a valuable lesson in work-life balance. - photo by Greg Kratz

The more I write about my quest for better work-life balance, the more likely I am to see lessons in everything around me.
I guess you could call it an occupational hazard.

For example, I have recently seen work-life lessons both in the faces of old friends and in giant faces carved in mountains.
Does that sound strange? Let me explain.

Last week, my family and I enjoyed a summer vacation to my beautiful home state of South Dakota. I've written in the past about the value of family trips when it comes to rebalancing the "life" part of my work-life ledger, and this time away once again helped me in that regard. But that's not the focus of this week's column.

What really struck me were the lessons I learned in unexpected places. The first of those came from family members and friends we visited in my hometown of Yankton and several other cities.

I had the unique opportunity during this trip to reconnect with some friends I had not seen for years — or even decades. These were people who had been close to me during my childhood, high school and college years, and with whom I have rekindled friendships recently thanks to the wonders of email and social media.

Talking to these folks — people who had significant influences on me and my worldview during my younger life — was enlightening. I am so glad we have made the effort to rebuild ties that were a bit frayed by time.
I believe that making such connections is another part of achieving work-life balance. Sometimes it's hard just to find time for my family and the friends who live close to me now. However, these recent experiences have confirmed that old friends deserve some of my time and attention, too. And thanks to the wonders of technology, there's no excuse not to give it.
However, that's not the only lesson I learned from reconnecting with old friends. I was interested to get a glimpse into their own attempts to build balanced lives.

For example, there was the friend who recently started working at a small-town newspaper and is sharing his passion for journalism with a new generation of reporters. He is still building the life he wants, and he isn't giving up on the pursuit of the right balance for him.

I also gained insight into the varying meanings of "home." One friend moved back to South Dakota after several years away to be closer to family and what feels like home to him. Another friend bought a house in the Czech Republic because it feels right to him to live near where his ancestors once lived. Both seem to be finding joy in their journeys.

Finally, there is the friend who is rebuilding her life after struggling through a devastating divorce. She has shown remarkable strength and resilience, and her dedication to her sons and to maintaining their sense of family is an example to me. I think she has been so overwhelmed with the daily requirements of life that she hasn't thought much about balance for the last year or so, but she still seems to have her priorities absolutely right.

All of these friends inspired me as I talked, reminisced and laughed with them. As I ponder our conversations in the months to come, I'm sure I'll keep seeing new ways that their experiences can inform my work-life choices.
Which brings me to giant faces carved in mountains.

South Dakota may not be famous for much, but if you've heard of the state at all, chances are you know about Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Crazy Horse Memorial.

I visited both with my family during our vacation, and one of the many things that struck me about these incredible, mountain-sized works of art was the fact that the men who designed both sculptures made their efforts a family affair.
Gutzon Borglum is known as the sculptor of Mount Rushmore, finding the faces of four American presidents in the granite of the Black Hills. But when Borglum died in 1941, his son, Lincoln, took on his father's responsibilities.

Likewise, the Crazy Horse Memorial started as a project of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. However, since his death in 1982, his wife (who died in May) and many of their children have continued to work on the mountain, slowly making progress on this immense monument to legendary Lakota leader Crazy Horse.

As my wife and I talked about these monuments, the sculptors and their families, she remarked that they, too, had a lesson to teach about finding balance in life. While it is safe to say that Borglum and Ziolkowski gave their lives to the monumental tasks for which they are best-known, it also appears that they found time to maintain and strengthen family ties.

If they could keep a focus on their families in such circumstances, I don't have any excuse not to do so. The next time I tell myself I'm too tired to spend quality time with my wife and children after eight hours in an air-conditioned office, I'll try to think about people who were close to their families despite spending hours handling dynamite on a mountain every day.
Work-life lessons really are all around us, whether in the faces of people we see every day, the faces of old friends with whom we are reconnecting or even stone faces carved into mountains. It's up to us to find those lessons and use them to improve our own lives.

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