My wife and I love a good House Hunters episode on HGTV. Mostly because the young adults on the episodes blow us away by thinking their starter home needs to be what many families’ end of career homes are.

They’re looking for something to start out that is at least as nice as that of their parents—who, in most cases, have worked a lifetime to get to that point. It’s all about the granite countertops, home-theater rooms, his and her closets, and the pool. Which all looks nice and seems enjoyable.

But as a longtime family counselor, I can assure you that the most stately and intricately landscaped homes often harbor loneliness, heartache, and despair. More stuff means more bills. And more bills require more work.

The cycle is as paralyzing as it is addictive. And it is absolutely decimating marriages and families.

We’re all proud to be busy. But being busy doesn’t necessarily mean being productive. And being productive doesn’t necessarily mean making more money.

Perhaps rather than busyness, we should value balance. And balance demands priorities. Whether it’s a balanced diet or a balanced work-home life, it all comes down to us—and the power of choices.

Does work/life balance matter?

I’ll be completely honest with you. I was one of those dads who didn’t always have my priorities in order.

As a pastor and counselor, far too often I allowed the needs and issues of other people to dictate my time—to the detriment of my own family. That wasn’t intentional. But some intentional choices on my part could have proven helpful to my relationships with the ones I love most.

Indeed, intentionality is key. The dirty little secret is that for those of us who are parents, it’s not the size of the closets or the number of cars that ultimately determine our quality of life. It’s the time spent building relationships and investing in the things that matter most.

My oldest child is heading off to college this month. From the time he was a baby, older people told me how quickly the time would fly by. But the reality of that didn’t really hit me until just a few years ago.

Here are a few tips for any young professional trying to achieve healthy work/life balance in your personal and professional life:

Control your calendar. Don’t let it control you.

Prioritize your spouse and kids. That means putting their names on your calendar every single week, if at all possible. They deserve your best, not your leftovers. Making time for lunch dates, field trips, and special programs at school communicates a level of interest and support that cannot be overstated.

And if someone from work wants you to meet with them at one of those times, the answer is simple: “I’m sorry. I already have an appointment at that time. Let’s look for another time.” I’ve never had anyone demand to know who my appointment was with. They just worked around it. I’m pretty sure that will be your experience as well.

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Understand the difference between wants and needs.

I know. That’s not something most people like to think about.  After all, we want the big house, the new car, and the fancy vacation that our Facebook friend just posted about. But if getting that means going into debt, then it’s probably not a choice that’s going to serve you well in the long run.

One of my friends recently shared a photo of her home. It’s small, especially by today’s standards, and not the least bit fancy. But she explained that she and her husband made the choice to have a smaller home with a lower monthly payment so they can put more money in savings and splurge on family vacations.

That’s what I’m talking about! Most of us live in the real world and know we can’t have it all. And if you’re still trying to get it all, it’s time to settle on reality.

This family is being intentional about aligning their choices with their needs and priorities. And it’s allowing them to experience a measure of balance and freedom that inspires others to live simply and value relationships.

Focus on what matters most.

This principle comes straight from Scripture. Matthew 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” These words of Jesus refer specifically to the importance of discerning between what is temporary and what is eternal.

Twenty years from now, is it really going to matter whether you bought a new vehicle or a used one? For me personally, I can say unequivocally no. But if you ask me if it’s going to matter in 20 years whether I spent the whole weekend on the ball fields, at the office, or in church, that’s a definite yes.

My wife and I understand that the investment made in our own spiritual development, as well as that of our kids, is of untold value. For us, that’s what matters most.

Constantly reevaluate your life work/life balance. Adjust as needed.

When my wife, Michelle, was serving as a student minister in our early days of marriage, I remember an object lesson she demonstrated that stuck with me.

The lesson required only three things: a glass jar, a bowl of popcorn kernels, and five ping-pong balls. She talked first about how many things we fill our time with each day—the phone calls, the interruptions, errands, etc. Those things were represented by the popcorn kernels. She then poured them into the jar.

She explained how if we’re not careful, those will make it impossible for us to fit in all the things that are most important: personal care, family relationships, time with God, etc. Those things were represented by the ping-pong balls. She could get a couple of the ping-pong balls crammed into the jar, but there was no way the rest of them could fit.

Then she emptied the jar and put the ping-pong balls in first. After that, she was able to pour all the popcorn kernels into the jar. They filled in the spaces around the balls and left room enough to close the lid.

The truth is that it’s not easy living in such a hectic culture where we’re always connected to technology. We get so many messages, reminders, and notifications every single day. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by it all.

Our “important things” change with each season of life, and that’s okay. If you’re just now trying to figure out this thing called balance, let me encourage you to give yourself lots of grace; you’re going to mess up. But keep evaluating your life and making choices consistent with your “important things,” and know God will help you figure it out.

Copyright © 2019 Garrick D. Conner. All rights reserved.

Garrick D. Conner is a licensed professional counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist, ordained minister, and freelance writer. He serves as discipleship pastor at Park Hill Baptist Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas. You can read more from him at Find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.