Another week and more media comment on how parents try to balance work and family life. Report after report, piece after piece asks the same question; how can parents keep climbing the corporate ladder whilst keeping their feet firmly on the floor for their children?
The short answer is that they can’t. Why? Are they too disorganised? Are they not committed enough to their careers? Are they failing to make the sacrifices required to have it all? Are they just not trying hard enough? No. They fail because they are not simply clear enough about what success is for them – instead they are too often trying to live up to a set of impossible standards imposed on them by others.
Of course, to say they can’t isn’t true for everyone. Some parents have it nailed. They believe they have it covered. They are meeting the needs of their corporate masters – they are mostly masters – and have reached an accommodation at home to support them. But everyone’e definition of success is different. Here’s mine:
- I want to see my daughter every day
- The days I am not there when she wakes up, I want to be there when she goes to bed.
- I want to attend every doctors’ appointment. I want to be at every nursery or school event. I want to be home when she is sick.
- I want to have some proper time with her every day when she has my full attention – no blackberry or iPhone in hand – no half an eye on the TV.
- I want parenting to be a team effort – with my wife and I doing it together. Partners in parenting.
- I want my wife and I to have time to ourselves – time to suck in the oxygen we all need to be a great parent or any kind of sane human being – but I also want us to have time together as a family just being a family.
- I want to see my daughter doing her latest thing – saying her latest words, climbing the stairs, talking about her imaginary world with Elmo and Maka Paka- not hearing about them from someone else.
My definition of success doesn’t involve nannies – although at one point we hired one – that lasted less than a week! My success doesn’t involve Skyping or FaceTiming my daughter from a faceless office or a remote hotel. My success doesn’t involve delegating my daughter’s care to anyone – not even my wife who is the greatest mother the world has ever seen – and I know – I’ve had the privilege of having the second greatest mother ever in my life too. My success is being involved. Properly involved – every day.
I can hear the response now from the corporate world – from my friends and former colleagues who work in those hallowed halls. That’s all very well for you, Ben, but some of us have real jobs. Some of us have pressures and deadlines you don’t. It’s easy for you. It works for us. We are all different. You don’t know. Success at my work is being present. Success is dropping everything to meet a new deadline. Success is showing my boss that despite having children I can still work just as hard; just as many hours; travel just as much; be just as energetic; care as much as I did WBP – world before parenthood.
If that’s your success then fair enough. It’s not my life – it’s yours. But I respectfully suggest you’re playing the wrong game or at least for the wrong team. Great employers – truly great employers, not just ones who say they want to be great employers – I know, I’ve worked for some of these – measure success differently. They measure output. They measure quality not quantity. They measure values. They care about your happiness. Not because they are inherently great people – although many are – but because it’s good business. Happy people = great work = happy clients/shareholders/customers.
I have only been able to achieve my definition of work and home success since I started to work for myself. That does say something about the teams I played for and the working cultures they created but it also says something about how I played. I allowed others to define success for me; attending that meeting; speaking at the conference; winning that contract; become a Director; making that trip; leading that team; getting that promotion; going to that dinner; being seen by the right people; managing my profile; making Partner.
It took me too long to define it for myself. Success, just like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. If you are not clear what your success is, it will be defined for you – by others. It took me too long but I have it now. I hold it in my hands each day and it’s not going anywhere – not for anyone. It’s for me and my family. It’s my life. It’s my success.