Thank God It’s Friday
As a leadership coach, I haven’t been immune from the struggle to live a balanced life, but my wife, Pat, and I were lucky when our children were young. As clinical psychologists, we could set our own schedules. The one drawback was that we had to work nights because we were family therapists and often saw clients in the evening.
To accommodate both of our needs, we came up with an arrangement where one of us would be home after school almost every day to take care of our two sons and the household. I worked Tuesday and Thursday nights, and Pat worked Monday and Wednesday nights. When one of us was working, the other usually would take over when the kids got out of school. In addition, when the kids were preschoolers, I often took Fridays off to do things with them. This arrangement gave us a good balance between our work and home lives. It actually was a very gratifying time for both of us. While Pat continued to shoulder most of the household and child-care responsibilities, I was able to be more involved in the care of the boys than most of the men I knew.
I like to tell the story of when my oldest son Adam, who is now in his 30s, was going off to college and I took him out for a good-bye breakfast. He told me how great it was to have the breakfast, especially since it was on a Friday. I didn’t know what he was talking about and said something like, “Yeah, Friday’s a great day—TGIF.” And he said, “I don’t think you get it, Dad. I like Fridays with you because I remember when I was just a preschooler and you’d be home on Fridays. I always looked forward to that. There were two things I loved about Fridays—one was that you were home and the other was that the Muppets were on.”
To hear that was like winning Olympic gold, but there is another side to my story.
When Oprah Calls
When the kids were teenagers, I got really caught up in writing books, and I had a fair degree of success. I began to act as though my time was more important than my wife’s or my children’s. I was obsessed with traveling and giving workshops and what my next book was going to be.
I’d published a book—Awakening from the Deep Sleep—about men and their relationships and how they should live their lives differently. And the book was very well received.
That spring, we’d scheduled a family vacation to Hilton Head Island. My cousins were joining us, too. But three days into the trip, my assistant called to say, “You got a call from Oprah. They have an opening on the show and they want you to be on it.” But the opening was just two days away—in the middle of our vacation.
Without hesitating or consulting my family, I made arrangements to go to Chicago. Later, I told my wife how excited I was. She was gracious about my leaving, even helping me buy a new suit to wear on the show, but I didn’t think about the fact that I was leaving her alone with the kids and my cousins.
It wasn’t until I returned a few days later that it dawned on me: I was so caught up in my success that I had put my own need for fame ahead of the family’s need for my time.
I’d done a lot of things in my life, but the fact that I was on The Oprah Winfrey Show was special. People started calling me “Oprah Man” and asking me what Oprah was like. I’m not ashamed to admit that it went straight to my head. I was seduced by success. It was amazing how easy it was for me to set aside some of my basic values. And the irony of it, of course, was that my book was about how men should shed their self-centered behavior. I was becoming a case study for my own book!
It took a while, but eventually I came to my senses. The demands of family and daily life forced me to reset my priorities. One result was that I didn’t write another book for several years, due in large part to the realization that it was time for me to back off.
Tuning Out To Tune In
My children are grown now and on their own, and I’ve moved from family therapy to leadership coaching. If anything, I’m busier than ever, but even though my circumstances have changed, I still have to work hard at the business of balancing my life.
I’ve employed many techniques in the struggle and advocated many more to my clients. You’ll read about them in the pages ahead. But one of the easiest things anyone can do—and something that has helped me tremendously over the years—is to take a time-out in the form of meditation. I taught myself the technique when I was 21 years old, and now I can tune out the world in a millisecond. If I have a 10-minute break, I can close my eyes and instantly be in an altered state.
I especially like to do this when I feel that midday slump coming on, around 3 or 4 o’clock. I can do it in the office or sitting in my car, but my favorite place to do it is on the porch, hearing the birds sing and leaves rustle. It’s amazing how energized I feel afterward. And it’s a reminder that sometimes the simplest acts can restore the spirit. I encourage anyone who is feeling out of sync to find a technique like this that will help “pause” the day and replenish the soul.
Another thing that helps to keep me balanced is having my responsibilities at home clearly defined. Otherwise, it might be easy for me to say that I’m too busy to unload the dishwasher or fix breakfast. It’s not as if I have a lot of duties, but I have enough that I can’t pull rank and say my work is so important that I can’t do my part.
More and more business executives are looking for tools to help them deal with the ever-increasing demands on their time and energy. Like most of us, they’re trying to keep four or five balls in the air—and living in fear that if they drop one, all will come tumbling down.
Americans don’t have a good track record on juggling. Traditionally, we’ve focused too much on work while ignoring the fact that if we drop that ball—if we lose our job or go through major difficulties or disruptions in the workplace—we’ll likely recover in time, even though it may not seem like it at first. We forget that if we drop the ball at home or in other areas of our lives, we may not bounce back so easily.
Neglecting a marriage can lead to divorce and long-lasting heartache. Not paying attention to our kids can send them into a tailspin. If we pull back from friendships or our larger community, we risk triggering depression and loneliness. Disregarding our health—mental or physical—can have dire and irreversible consequences. If we violate our personal values, we risk losing the respect of others, and even ourselves, possibly forever.
Despite our propensity to pour more time and energy into work, our culture is changing. People in every generation, from baby boomers to millennials, are seeking the keys to a life of greater meaning. They want their values to permeate everything, from work to home life and free time.
Shifting economic forces and strident cultural wars are helping to spur these changes. There’s no longer a mentality of abundance, of an unbounded world and resources without end. People are tired of the endless fighting over beliefs. As information rockets around the globe at warp speed, people are more aware than ever that their actions can have wide impact—and that they might have less control over what the impact might be. The result is a deep desire to reset the balance, to restore meaning, to find personal points of balance.
You’ve probably heard the term “carbon footprint.” It’s a way to measure the impact of humans on the environment in terms of the production of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. Well, people also are worrying more and more about their personal footprints. They’re asking, “What will I leave behind? Will anyone notice that I have passed this way?”
The popularity of the last lecture of Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor who died of pancreatic cancer, is a case in point. Millions of people have been drawn to his story through the video of his lecture on YouTube and his best-selling book with Jeffrey Zaslow, The Last Lecture. Why? People are inspired by a life not lived in vain.
The desire to leave something behind is deeply ingrained. But we don’t have to literally change the world to leave a powerful legacy. If you read any of the Portraits of Grief in the New York Times—the short profiles of those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center—you saw that some of the most vivid memories about the victims were tied to ordinary, everyday experiences.