My Family IS My Legacy
If you want to be a workaholic or follow your passion with tireless enthusiasm and determination, I wish you all the best.
As long as there isn’t someone at home waiting for you the whole time.
“Don’t ever confuse the two, your life and your work. The second is only part of the first. Don’t ever forget what a friend once wrote Senator Paul Tsongas when the senator decided not to run for reelection because he’d been diagnosed with cancer: ‘No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time in the office.’”
— Anna Quindlen
One of my favorite comedians is Greg Fitzsimmons. A recent guest on his podcast was fellow comedian Tom Papa. During the conversation, the two talked about doing things to avoid getting into a rut and Fitzsimmons mentioned possibly going to the racetrack. He then relayed a story about Ernest Hemingway and his regular routine, which included writing, drinking, and spending afternoons at the track.
In response, Papa remarked that nowhere in the lure of Hemingway’s daily life is talk about doting on his wife or helping his children with their homework, which led to a discussion about how being an involved father makes you boring and take the romance out of story like Hemingway’s, but also makes you a better, healthier person. (In total, Hemingway had four wives and three children.)
Because, no matter how much you Lean In, you can’t have it all. That goes for men too.
“Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.”
— John Trainer
We all want to do well in our jobs, not just to make more money, but most of us take pride in our work and, hopefully, we have chosen a career that excites and challenges us.
“He does his best to be both a father and the CEO of Apple, and he juggles those pretty well,” she said. “Sometimes I wish I had more of his attention, but I know the work he’s doing is very important and I think it’s really cool, so I’m fine. I don’t really need more attention.”
Another example is former Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders owner Al Davis. One of the most successful and influential owners in modern pro sports, Davis had a big hand in shaping the NFL into the moneymaking powerhouse it is today, particularly making the Super Bowl happen while also supporting the full integration of the league.
Of course, accomplishing all of that came at a price at home, as illustrated throughout a recent ESPN The Magazine profile of Al’s son and current Raiders owner Mark Davis, including the following:
Mark got the idea that the place needed pets. He bought two potbellied pigs, one silver and one black, and jokingly referred to them as his children.
He invited his parents over to meet the pigs. Carol Davis came in and played with them. Al stayed in the car.
“My dad was the greatest,” Mark says. “I didn’t deserve to be treated the way I was, and I mean that in a good way. He was the greatest father anybody could have, but he focused 99 percent of his time on the football team.”
It’s not just titans and innovators. These things happen to the rest of us too:
“I knew it was over when I got home from another long day at work and my kids told me that mommy took them out to Burger King to eat and told them they were moving to Canada and Daddy wasn’t going with them.”
That’s a sad quote, but the most telling part of it for me is “another long day at work.” Look, no one deserves to lose their family like that, but I wonder how many dinners this father missed. I’m not saying that you should quit your job and spend every single moment with your child — that would be nearly as damaging as neglecting them — and individuals in even the healthiest relationships need time alone, but studies have shown that there’s a link between workaholic dads and badly behaving children. Gee, you think maybe it’s a cry for attention?
The rich kid with parents that are never home so he acts out character has been included in countless books, films, and television shows, but it’s a very real phenomenon:
Wealthy parents are often absent parents, and the kids feel abandoned. When the parents try to make up lost time with money, the kids get even angrier. “Money is the wrong currency to pay back lost time. You make up lost time with time.
If your kids are going to be either screwed up or resentful, why are you working so many hours? Clearly not for them.
“I’m stepping down to spend more time with my family.”
We’ve head it countless times. Politicians, coaches, players, and business executives have used it as their standard reason for leaving a job or team or position for years. Yet, most of these people pop up at another company or with another team three months later, claiming to be re-energized and eager to tackle an entirely new set of challenges.
We all know that the vast majority of them never had any intention of spending more time with their families, yet it continues to be the most abused excuse in our culture. Why?
One reason is that it’s a bulletproof explanation. No sane person will criticize someone for leaving a job in favor of spending time with their spouse and children. However, the deeper reason is that we want to believe it because we want to do it too. Or at least we think we do. Too often, we work most of our life for short bursts of freedom or time with the family — a half-day, a long long, or a vacation once a year — culminating in retirement, when we’ll finally be able to enjoy our life and family. Only, by then it’s too late.
It’s not all on us. The culture has changed, and while nearly every employer preaches work-life balance, try bringing that up to your boss when he says he needs you to work late to help create a report that he’s presenting to the CFO in the morning.
I’m not naive, nor am I preaching. I understand that, in order to make ends meet, some people need to work a ton of hours just to pay the rent and keep the lights on. However, there are also scores of us that choose this life.
I work in corporate finance at a Fortune 500 multinational, so I’ve worked long hours and the occasional weekend. In fact, I worked late last night. However, I also made sure to spend time with my kid this morning, not out of guilt, but out of want. Getting home after she was already asleep took away one of the best parts of my day — and the main reason I work so hard in the first place. As a result, I spent a little bit longer with her this morning to make up for it.
Also, I recently made a conscious choice not to pursue a promotion or go back for another certification for a few years until my child(ren) are a little older and in school. This may — and probably already has — hurt my career, but these years go by so quickly that I don’t want to miss them.
If you want to dedicate all of your time to your work, I wish you all the best. Just please don’t do it at the expense of your family. Children never ask to be born and most spouses don’t willingly marry a workaholic. If you’re going to have a family, be a part of that family.
Otherwise, what are you doing this for? What are you building with your life? What will your ultimate legacy be? How many people men built empires and cities and yet came home to an empty house abandoned by children that he barely recognized? How many “great” men were great at work or in public, but were abhorrent or simply negligent in private, with the people that they were supposed to cherish the most?
The reality is that you have to make a choice. You have to decide where your focus will be. You should absolutely make your passion a priority, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of everything else. It can — and should — be another piece in the Jenga tower of your reality.
Life is full of choices. You need to make yours. I know that I’ve made mine.
Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, including the brand new In Defense Of…, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. In addition to his own site, his work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, and many more. He has been quoted on Buzzfeed and Deadspin. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.