Are Kids A Good Enough Excuse To Give Up On Your Dream?

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My wife and I were blessed with our first child a few weeks ago. I was able to plan ahead and take a month away from my business to be there for my wife and daughter. As of today, I’m back on the road to kick off the busiest season of my year for my speaking business. I earn one-third of my income in a two-month span between mid-September and mid-November. While that may sound great, I know that I need to change my business model to be the present husband and father that I ultimately want to be.

Thankfully, human babies give us a 9-month runway before they arrive. Imagine if humans only gestated for 2 months like dogs and cats. My daughter’s arrival has changed the way I relate to work and money and her announcement in December of last year is what began my journey as a recovering workaholic. Because of the intentional shifts I’ve been making in 2014 around my life, family, and business, 2015 will look entirely different, yet my mission to help other recovering workaholics redesign their lives and relationships to family, work, and money will be the same.

Whether you have kids or are planning to have kids, you know that having them is the easiest part. (No disrespect to the women who carry us in their wombs. Thank you.) Raising them is the hard part. Kids don’t just adapt into our existing way of being. They actually challenge everything we believe in hopes to “raise” us to another level. They challenge (in a good way) and change what we believe about work, success, education, love, money, the world, happiness, and faith.

In the arena of work, I see one of two things tend to happen when people have kids—workaholism increases or it decreases.

1. When Workaholism Increases After Kids

Workaholism doesn’t increase “because” of kids. It increases because of our feelings of not having enough. This feeling existed when it was just you (and your spouse, if you have one), but now that you have another mouth to feed, that feeling gets aggravated and working more is the only way we know how to cope with it.

We feel even more stuck in our existing relationship to work, yet we work harder to try to accelerate our career and make more money in hopes that we will get a different result somehow. Unfortunately, when you are salaried, working more or harder doesn’t immediately mean more money, but the carrot on the stick is a hopeful future promotion.

If we choose this path, we agree to keep our heads down for another 18 years until the nest is empty. We hope that at that point we have enough money and, more importantly, energy to face the midlife crisis when it hits. But at the age of 50, AARP starts targeting us and the excuse for not following our dreams shifts from taking care of our kids to preparing for retirement.

Corporate America loves when employees get married, buy a home, and have kids. While HR tries to come up with all kinds of strategies to retain talent, the easiest strategies they could implement may be encouraging their employees to have kids and helping them “lock in” a 30-year mortgage for a house that eats up most of their paycheck. Once those long term responsibilities are in place, our chances of ever leaving drop significantly.

It’s easy for us to blame our employer for our misery, but the reality is that our own life choices and beliefs about our self-worth are responsible for our condition and apparent lack of life choices. We are the elephant in the cubicle, not our colleagues, clients, boss, employer, or the economy.

The question any expecting parent has to ask themselves the moment that pregnancy test reads positive is “How can I be the best role model for my children? By giving up on my dreams so that they can follow theirs or following my dreams to inspire them to follow theirs?” While it sounds noble and even romantic to give up on our dreams for someone else, that is a huge weight for the person you sacrificed for to bear, especially if they didn’t ask you to.

In all honesty, the best person to ask these questions to is not ourselves as parents, but our kids. “What do you want for (not from) mommy and daddy? Do you want us to work really hard at something we don’t love that much to make sure that your college tuition is paid for and you can have everything you want and need along the way?” If so, I can work more to pay for your piano lessons, but I may not be able to make it to the recital. I can get you the best baseball equipment and send you to camp, but I’ll likely miss more than 80% of your games.

Of course, our kids are too young to make big life choices like this between the ages of 0-10, but we know in our hearts that the number one thing a child wants and needs is the presence of their mommy and daddy.

Would Our Kids Really Want Us To Sacrifice Our Dreams?

My parents were both doctors. I essentially had the Cosby family growing up—two well-paid white collar professionals. But they were always working. That’s the primary reason I’m not a doctor today. I didn’t admire their lifestyle. I saw alternatives. My minister was our soccer coach and our accountant was my baseball coach. They were successful professionals and present fathers.

When I speak to millennials and ask them “How many of your parents love(d) their jobs?” only a few of them raise their hands. And then I ask “How many of you wished your parents did what they loved even if it meant you having less growing up?” and almost all of their hands go up.

In the same way that we as parents want the best for our kids, our kids want what’s best for us. But if each generation gives up on their dreams so that the next generation can follow theirs, then nobody ends up living their dream. The baton is passed, without a single step in the right direction.

As parents, we want our children to be happy and do better than us. We want them to have the things that we didn’t have growing up. We don’t want them to have to go through what we went through (even though what we went through made us who we are today). But we have to be clear that this what we want for them.

In some ways, we try to relive our childhood vicariously through our children. And it’s beautiful to be childlike and play in the sandbox again, but as parents, perhaps the best approach is not to have an agenda around college and career for them. What would our lives look like if we let our children—who seem to only know joy regardless of resources—lead us? What if we asked them what they were passionate about without attachment to a career? What if we just supported their journey unconditionally, especially since it’s the road less traveled that we may have been afraid to take?

While we as parents think our children need everything and strive to give it to them, children have a different definition of what’s enough. Parents I’ve met joke about how they have bought their kid a $50 toy and they ended up playing with the box more than the toy itself. My wife and I recently watched the movie “Babies” that documents the early life of 4 children in America, Mongolia, Nairobi, and Japan and despite completely different access to resources, the joy of the children appeared to be the same.

What’s Right With Millennials?

This is part of the lash back at Millennials. Despite their zeal in the 60s and 70s, many Boomers gave up and settled for the same America they were fighting against. And now their kids, the Millennials, who they spoiled, told to follow their dreams, and provided everything for are stepping into adulthood and into the working world and don’t want to settle for less than their dream job and the Boomers in management are angry.

Millennials are the Boomers’ kids. But despite an individual parent’s wishes for their kid to do something they love for a living, the predominant culture suggests that as a generation, millennials are lazy, entitled, naive, and disloyal. It’s not true. Millennials choices are begging the question “Have we bought into an economic system where unhappiness and misery are inherent or are our limited beliefs blocking us from seeing a new business models and ways to work?

2. When Workaholism Decreases After Kids

I want to use my daughter as a source of inspiration to be present and live fully, not as an excuse to defer my dreams. I see moms and dads use their maternity and paternity leave as a time to reflect on what they really want, what they value, what’s important to them, and what’s best for them and their child. Many start thinking of entrepreneurial ideas, new careers, side hustles, escaping Corporate America, or simply change their relationship with their employer to work less.

It’s easy to rationalize that “My kids won’t notice that I’m not there when they are that young,” or say “Now I’m working for my kids’ future.” Working for our kids means working at (not from) home. Parenting is work and your life partner and child want you there. We can’t telecommuting to our job as parents too often. Being a provider is only half of parenthood—the other half is being present. We may have fancy titles at work, but the only title that matters at home is mom or dad.

One of my good friends recently had a child too and he left his position as principal of a high school, where he worked 70+ hours per week, to become an assistant principal with less responsibility at another high school without sacrificing pay. I totally respect him because put his title as husband and father above his job title.

The first obstacle that comes up for workaholics with kids is how much they work and how much money they make. Of course we’re not going to quit before paid leave, but looking at our little ones, we know that we can’t continue working how we were working. The bath water of our lives was dirty and spilling over before the baby. Now the baby is in it. And rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water, we know that the bath water needs to change. The bath water reflects how we feel about the way we spend our time. Many people feel like their job is tainting their life.

To be honest, I don’t know exactly how I’m going to change my bath water and make this all work, but I know it is possible. I personally know people like my baseball and soccer coach who have had the courage to make these tough choices and succeeded. I’ve also seen and heard about many more. We don’t work to live or live to work. Everything we do is part of our “life’s work” which encapsulates how we show up in all of our roles as a partner, parent, professional, peer, and person in the world. We may have to spend more time at work than we do at home, but the quality of the time we spend with those we love is what matters most. The thousands of seemingly little meaningless moments will far outnumber the few big meaningful ones like graduations, marriages, job offers, and births.

Next year I may make a lot less money…
…or I may find more efficient ways to earn it that aren’t solely based on selling my time.

Next year I may have to say “No” to potential clients…
…or I may find new cost-effective ways to serve them like hiring and training others.

Next year I may have to raise my prices which may mean serving less people…
…or I may find new clients that can afford my solutions.

But most importantly, next year, I plan to have no regrets as a husband first and father second.

Wishing you more happy hours,