The 3-Legged Stool | A Fighter Pilot's Perspective on Finding Balance

family individual military Nov 08, 2019

“You gotta have balance!” 

On the long list of one-liners that folks tend to pull from when spouting off advice, this “balance” concept probably ranks first. Over the years, I’ve found myself wondering...What exactly am I balancing? As an officer in the Air Force Reserve, an airline pilot, and a husband and father of two, I tend to think that balance is something I need. However, real-world tactics on HOW to find this elusive balance are often difficult to nail down. 

As a squadron commander, I am charged with leading over 70 fellow officers whose stories are similar to mine. Each officer has a civilian job and a military job, and they all have families—most with kids. They look to leaders like me when seeking wisdom about how to manage such a full life. When these discussions take place, I often find myself referring to what I call the “three-legged stool.” I tell my guys that if I don’t give enough time, energy, and concern to any one leg, I’ll fall right off my stool. The three legs of my stool are:

1. My day job (airline pilot)

2. My Air Force job (instructor and leader)

3. My family (husband and father)

Identifying Your 3-Legged Stool

Obviously, readers of Readiness Group blogs aren’t all airline pilots, military members, and fathers, but this concept can be generalized to apply to almost everyone. I could also frame the three legs of my stool as my job (airline pilot), my family, and my passion (Air Force). Yes, being an officer in the Air Force is indeed a job—but if I’m totally honest, it’s not a job I need. It’s a profession that I am passionate about, but for the last 10 years, I have had another job that would still provide for our family without the additional Air Force income.

Take a moment to reflect on your busy life and see if your “Big 3” fit into this model:

Family: Immediate family, extended family, and close friends all count (and all demand attention).

Job: This is the easy one. How do you put bread on the table? 

Passion: It can be tough to do when life gets busy, but investing in our passions is still an absolute must if we want to truly maintain balance in our lives. Hopefully, when I ask you what you are passionate about, something healthy, exciting, and truly enjoyable comes to mind. 

Why Investing in Your Passion Matters

If neglected, the passion leg can actually lead folks down the path of mental and/or physical unhealthiness. Without a hobby, charitable cause, sport, or service activity, our excess energy is often poured into unhealthy activities that reduce what RG calls one’s Readiness Buffer. If I were talking to one of my officers, I would say very plainly, “What are you gonna do with all of your spare time when you retire?” or “You gotta carve out time for something you WANT to do for YOU.”

In my airline job, I often chat with co-workers who are sitting on a 2-legged stool comprised of work and home. Typically, these same folks have small Readiness Buffers. They often use work as an escape from the stresses of home, and in turn, they come up short when their job doesn’t provide the satisfaction or sense of accomplishment that they hoped for. This often leads them to look elsewhere for satisfaction and excitement.

In today’s world, unhealthy habits are very easily discovered by those looking for excitement. Unhealthy physical habits, infidelity, and gambling are just a few examples of outlets that provide momentary “kicks” but have significant long-term consequences. Conversely, I’ve found that my friends and co-workers who invest time in a passion or hobby are more likely to lead a balanced life with healthy buffers, solid family situations, and a sense of preparation for life’s inevitable potholes.

Action Item: Today, seek to identify the legs of your own 3-legged stool. Download the Free PDF here, then think about the amount of time, energy, and passion you’re currently putting into each leg. Personally, I find that filling my busy days with something I have to do, something I want to do, and something I love is what gives me balance.