Should Career Come Before Family?

Post Image

Early in my career, I was so driven to succeed, that I gave up TV. I thought that TV was a waste of time and that only lazy, average, and below average people watched it.

I didn’t just replace traditional TV with YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, or pirating movies on my laptop. I literally didn’t watch anything. Instead I read a whole bunch of business books like Good To Great, Influence, The Goal, The Essential Drucker, Made To Stick, Never Eat Alone, Linchpin, and Built To Last to try to get an edge in my career. But even reading started to feel like work. I stopped reading fiction even though I loved books like The Alchemist, The Time Keeper, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, and The Celestine Prophecy.

Back then, I was single and single-minded. Today, I’m married with a kid. And I have no shame watching TV anymore. In fact, last Thursday, I watched a record 4 hours straight bundled up on the couch with my wife and I have no regrets. We watch Modern Family, Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How To Get Away With Murder. In all honesty, I didn’t enjoy each show, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that I was spending quality time with my family.

Presence > Paying A Lot

There are two ways to watch TV—passively and actively. I realized that my younger self hated passive TV. But it wasn’t just passive TV that I hated. I hated passive living. It’s not about what you do, it’s about how you do it. I can gain enjoyment from washing dishes, folding clothes, and gardening if I’m fully present.

As someone who wants to be a present partner and present parent, I realized that presence is more important than paying lots of money. What’s the point of paying thousands of dollars to fly my family to Disney Land if I’m checking my email every 20 minutes? Instead, a 20 minute walk around the neighborhood in which I’m fully engaged could mean just as much.

My wife and I don’t watch TV passively. We comment throughout the show. We laugh in each other’s arms. We make jokes from the show our own like “That’s what she said” from The Office. We put the TV on mute and talk to each other during commercials.

The younger half of my brain was like the news commentator who bashes the United States President for going on vacation and playing golf during a war. The other half of my brain was like a kid who finished their homework before sundown and simply wanted to play until the street lights came on.

We never judge a kid for how they chose to play as long as their work was done. But as adults, there is a sense that the work is never done. There is always more to do. And if we don’t do it, we will be behind some illusionary competitor who is an early bird and night owl and just works, works, works.

There is a time for everything—a time to be serious and a time to be childlike. As adults, we’ve forgotten that boundary. In the words of Beyonce and Jay-Z, “I want to be forever young.” I don’t want my childlike spirit to die in pursuit of society’s definition of success. Adulthood and the responsibility that comes with it doesn’t have to mean the death of who we really are.

Prioritizing The People I Love

Will I do that every Thursday? No. But last Thursday, I went to sleep with no guilt, regrets, or feeling of being behind. Are other people in my profession kicking my butt because they worked last Thursday night and I didn’t? Maybe? Maybe not? And guess what…I don’t care. What matters to me most is how my wife and daughter feel about my presence, not what the market thinks. If slow success or less success professionally is the price I have to pay for being a great partner and great parent, so be it.

The moment my daughter was born, I became the third most important person in my household. I thought that as a parent, I was supposed to tell her what to do, but I know who the real boss is now. No boss or client of mine can wake me up at 1am, 3am, and 5am crying and expect to get an immediate response from me. My priorities have changed, not by chance, but by choice.

My goal in life isn’t only to be a successful professional. I also want to be a successful partner and parent. And though my goal to be a successful professional came first in terms of sequence in my life, it doesn’t come first in terms of priorities. My first priority is my wife. My second priority is my daughter. And my third priority is my profession.

I encourage you to prioritize professional, parent, and partner in writing in the way I have above. I’m not suggesting that my order is the right order. It’s mine. What is yours? And do the people you love know your priorities. Them knowing will shape their expectations of you.There are many people who are extremely successful professionally, but suck as partners and parents. And there are many people who are great parents, but aren’t great professionals.

If your career is more important than your family, own it. Oftentimes, we say we’re working hard for our family, when in fact we’re doing it for ourselves. Our ambition and work tends to take us away from the people we say we love. Walter White, the chemistry professor turned meth dealer from Breaking Bad said it best when he told his wife “I did it for me,” as his empire started to collapse.

Does Career Success Alone Make A Successful Life?

There is an American narrative that suggests that if you succeed professionally, everybody will love you and your family will understand because your success will afford them a lifestyle they couldn’t otherwise have. I think that is why many people put their career ahead of family. In addition to that, I think we also want to have an individual sense of achievement whether we have a family or not.

I’m not the only one with this internal struggle. In an interview with David Bradley, Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo and mother of two daughters shared her mommy guilt. Nooyi says “We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent parents. But if you ask our daughters, I’m not sure they will say that I’ve been a good mom.” A few months ago, Mohamed El-Erian, former CEO of Pimco, left his position for part-time work after he received a letter from his 10-year old daughter that listed22 important events that he had missed due to work commitments that included her first day at school and first soccer match of the season to a parent-teacher meeting and a Halloween parade.

Given that these people are “successful,” it’s easy to say that it’s easier for them to slow down because they’ve already made it, they have millions, and they are older. But the one thing they can never buy back are those moments and times with their family.

My Dad Growing With Each Kid

I am the oldest of three kids and I can attest that my father got better with each kid. With me, he was pretty absent because I was born during his rise to the top. With his second son who came 4 years later, he reached the top and felt he had more autonomy, so he started coming home earlier and getting involved on weekends. And with the third son who came 2 years after that, he had established himself professionally and started to slow down a little bit. He made it to every baseball game and soccer game he could.

Many people let what they do define who they are instead of letting who they are define what they do. But your day job is likely not your only job. We all have several roles. Everyone is someone’s son or daughter. Perhaps you are a brother or sister. A mentor or soccer coach. These roles don’t pay money, but they give us meaning. As Drake says in his song Trophies, “Ain’t no envelopes to open, I just do it cause I’m supposed to, and they don’t have no award for that.” How much do these roles that don’t have money attached to them matter to you?

Hopefully the new and future working parents, myself included, can get off on the right foot with the first kid. If not your kids, then your partner. And if not your partner, then whatever other role is important to you outside of work.

Wishing you more happy hours,