In the translation of that concept to individual fathers and families, though, many assumptions and misunderstandings are made. There is an assumption that you must work in a traditional 9-5 job - or more - to earn enough income to provide for your family. There is a perception that work should be a sacrifice, something that must be endured. And there is a perception that you will need to constantly strive to improve yourself at work, so you can perform better and earn more money. We hold these perceptions to be true because we inherently understand that we must provide for our families, and they are reinforced by media and experience.
But providing for our family financially and materially is only one piece of the puzzle. Ask your spouse, friends, and children what they really want from you and I bet their answer would be much more simple; they want you, your time, your energy, your laughter, your playfulness, your love. Of course they want and need material security - shelter, food, clothing - but they also want you to provide them with your time and energy and connection. To be able to provide enough money to survive and enough time to make your family thrive is a balancing act that becomes more and more challenging with each additional step you take down the corporate path. Making it even more difficult is the fact that in order to stay true to the you that your family wants, you have to find a way to pursue your passions.
Some people are fortunate enough - or courageous enough - to have found a way to provide for their family's material needs while not having to rationalize the trade-offs of a full-time job. They have found a way to make money from their passions or in concert with their passions, whatever those may be, even if it does mean working a fairly traditional job. For proof, check out this excellent post by TJ Phillips. I admire that, and I greatly respect it.
But that has not been my experience, and I bet it is not the experience of most other Dads or Moms who work outside the home. Most of us have, for a variety of reasons, fallen into jobs that we tolerate at best. We talk about these jobs in terms of trade-offs: "Sure it sucks, but I make good money", "At least I don't have to travel too much" or "I'm home by 6:00pm every night." Even if we are able to be completely engaged and present when we are at home, and connected when we are away, there is still a giant albatross around our necks - we spend the vast majority of our waking hours away from our families, away from our passions, and away from the things that make us us. And every year that we spend doing this makes it more and more difficult for us to be introspective, look at the rationalizations we have layered ourselves with, and break free.
For me, this rationalization was simply too much to bear any longer, so three months ago I resigned. My company was supportive and allowed me to stay for three months, which was fantastic. But deep down inside, few people really understood it; they kept thinking that someone who was good at their job would want to continue to work and advance, and that my decision to leave must have been a result of some deep secret or hidden dissatisfaction. A few days ago, I had a run-in with a colleague that I wrote about on Facebook:
After being asked for the tenth time today why I'm REALLY leaving (as if I've been lying about it for the past three months), I let loose with "Because working sucks, and I would rather be home with my family doing things I enjoy than spending all day with you solving problems that I don't care about. And I bet you feel exactly the same way. So I think the better question is 'Why are YOU really STAYING?'". So there.
Yep, it's really just that simple. Specifically, here's why I am leaving:
1.) I do things at work every day which are good from a work perspective, but wrong from a "what feeds Jeff's soul" perspective. I have been involved in so many terminations - where you tell someone that they are not good enough and that they have to leave the company - that I started counting several years ago. I am embarrassed at the number; let's just say it starts with a two and is in four figures. I told myself that it was the right thing for the company, that some of them violated policy or treated others poorly, or that they just could not perform the tasks we asked them to accomplish. But the bottom line is that every time I fired someone, I ruined their day. That's more than two thousand ruined days. I don't care if they deserved it. I ruined 2,000 days. I will never - EVER - do another one.
2.) Most days, I end up talking to people about what they did or are doing wrong, so they can learn how to do it right. On some days this is teaching, on others it is training, and on others it is punishing. But it is ALWAYS telling someone that they need to change to survive. I just can't do it anymore because I believe that that is fundamentally disrespectful to who they are as a person. Some people just aren't good at certain things, and spending time and energy gnawing at someone's soul in an attempt to fit them into a hole they don't want to go into is just a shitty thing to do.
This reminds me of a time a few years ago, when I got some criticism that I was not driving my work teams to win and that I needed to change. This is what I told my boss:
I am at a point in my life where I have to decide if I am going to remake myself to fit a corporate culture, or change my company to fit my personality and passions. For now, I think you are right, with one small change: it's not that I am the wrong man for this job, it's that this is the wrong job for me. I do not care about winning, Dale - I care about playing. I care about learning, and growing, and trying, and living without fear, and doing what feels right, and listening to my heart, and coaching, and facilitating - but I could care less if I win, or if my team wins. I simply want them to value the experience of being. I have a different definition of what is important than you do. It's important to me that you are happy, and if you're not happy with me, I hope you do something about that.
I believe that most people are generally good. Sometimes they do stupid shit, just like I do. If they do stupid shit at work, that may make them bad workers - but still amazingly good people. I hate telling people that they need to change, as if they have to give up a part of who they are in order to do what the company wants them to do. This is stifling, restrictive, disrespectful, and not in keeping with my personal desire to accept people as who they are, warts and all - because the warts are usually beautiful and rich. All of my friends have warts, and they are all beautiful. Different, to be sure - but inspiring.
3.) The whole way I talk has completely changed over the past several years. So many words and phrases that have crept into my vocabulary, and they are all about how people perform: goal, achievement, development opportunity, synergy, problem statement, cost-benefit ratio, sunk cost, implementation, Performance Improvement Plan, integration, termination, alignment. These words are right out of the Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit. The lexicon of the working world is not authentic, it is not positive, it is not inspirational; it is escapist. It insulates its speakers from the reality of most situations, allowing them to experience strong emotions through their brains instead of through their hearts. As such, it enables people to be emotionally disconnected from the work they do and the decisions they make - which in turn enables corporate robots that make life miserable for the good people just trying to get along.
4.) Simply put, my passions lie elsewhere. In September 2009, my friend Flo allowed me to present some of my thoughts about passions at the Good Vibrations Unschooling Conference. Suffice it to say that I believe that identifying and pursuing passions, and helping others do the same, is one of the most important things we do in life. I have attempted to align my passions with my work, and have periodically succeeded; but in general I have to check my real passions at the door each day when I go to work. I enjoy many things - reading, hockey, history, and music to name a few - and I can usually find enough time to stay in touch with them even when I am gone 50+ hours each week. But my primary passion, the thing I enjoy doing above any other, is spending time with my family and friends in joy and relaxation and connectedness. I cannot do that at work, I cannot do that when I am stressed about work, and I cannot do that when I am rationalizing why I work. So work just had to go. 'Nuff said.
So where does that leave me? On my way to Oregon, I guess :-)
Seriously, it leaves me with an affirmation that I do need to provide for our shelter and food, which means I'll do some writing, and some consulting, and some whatevering in order to meet our most basic needs. And I trust that if I can make the space to write, the money will come. But my more critical role - as a parent, partner and friend who both provides and receives emotional and spiritual joy - requires me to stay true to myself and my passions, to view the world for its wonders and beauties, to support people I like even when they have bad days, to live life authentically through good and bad, and to never again have to provide one rationalization to get through a day. If I can do that with my heart wide open, I'll be a far better provider than my grandfather could have hoped for.