Last year I spent a week in the Colorado mountains evaluating my work:life balance. I enjoyed it so much, I repeated the process again this year.
Like many of you, I struggle to find the happy medium between being successful in my job and being a good spouse and parent. So I returned to the site of last year’s retreat, seeking advice from The Sages of Cimarron–Matt & Chantal McGee.
By external appearances, the McGees have the tiger by the tail on this one. They run a successful, get-off-the-grid retreat called Sonrise Mountain Ranch which is filled to capacity each year. Their seven–that’s right, seven–children are beautiful, intelligent, and practice excellent hygiene. Two kids have won Nobel prizes, one has split the atom (in their basement!), two will travel to Colorado Springs to try out for the 2018 Olympics, one has solved pi, and the youngest, well he’s just three, but he did potty train by 12 weeks.
More about the McGees shortly, but you get the gist.
The great American Dream promises good fortune to those who work long and hard in our land of freedom and opportunity. You know the story. The immigrant kid from Italy who ends up being the steel magnate. The Army veteran who returned from World War II, got an education, then worked his way through the ranks to become CEO. Or more recently, the guys who started a computer company in their garage just in time to ride the tech bubble to glory.
The players and generations change, but Americans have always enjoyed those stories of success. And if you are like me, maybe you envied them a little too…
Recently, the American Dream often has an asterisk beside it, noting a shift in our thinking. The white hot brilliance that originally drew us to these success stories may have blinded us to the carnage that lay in the achievement of these dreams. Broken marriages, estranged children, addictions–all evidence of the collateral damage from pursuing results rather than relationships.
So what is a leader to do? How can you lead your company and your family? How can you have success in both worlds? Is it possible?
In the twenty-five hour drive back from Colorado, I pondered this along with a book I was reading–The Opposable Mind, by Roger Martin.
Mr. Martin argues that leaders that excel in decision making do so by simultaneously entertaining opposing ideas, like the one I am discussing here: choosing between work or family. For most Americans, we feel constant friction between these two, and often, the two collide.
We assume that focusing on one will naturally mean sacrificing the other, and to an extent, that is true. The key, however, is to avoid an “either-or” decision. The Opposable Mind suggests that leaders should suspend either-or thinking and approach the dilemma a different way.
And that brings us back to Sonrise Mountain Ranch.
The McGees play a cruel joke on the families who attend their retreat. There is no wifi at the ranch. Cell phones are reduced to cameras and time pieces. This forces parents and children to do the unthinkable: spend time with each other.
Free from the tether of technology, families connect. But it is easy to do that when you are forced to, right? I mean, we were 30 minutes from civilization. Wouldn’t all this disappear when we were reintroduced to our native habitat?
The McGees are well aware of the opposing and competing ideas of work and family. Every summer they patiently listen to moms and dads as they struggle to find the balance between the two. In one of my favorite visual demonstrations during the week, the McGees pour a finite amount of water into an endless row of glasses to show how families wrestle with priorities. And then, about day three . . . it clicks.
I don’t know if it is the family challenges, or exploring the majestic mountains, or the side effects of the Colorado cannabis (kidding), but about seventy-two hours in I saw work and family in a different light–especially my role in each.
This fresh approach boiled down to one word . . . INTENT.
I go to work each day with the INTENT of doing my best. I don’t want to disappoint my boss or my clients, and of course, I want to do my job well enough to provide for my family. There is still enough of the American Dream in my DNA to motivate me to succeed.
INTENT at work becomes a problem when I equate it to success. In other words, when INTENT shifts from simply the idea of doing a good job to how can I climb the ladder quicker, look out. That’s when the American Dream DNA goes rogue and starts producing the cancerous cells of comparison. And let’s not kid ourselves, it is alluring.
In my own life, I have seen the cancer spread into the other side of the equation: Family. My INTENT has gotten out of whack there too. Back when Britton played basketball at Fairhope, I wanted him to sizzle from the three point line. Did he need to play travel ball? Could he benefit from a personal trainer? And what about Jack? He played varsity soccer as a freshman. Surely he was college scholarship material. The question that constantly floated in the back of my mind was: how do I get them there?
I was so caught up in the wrong kind of INTENT, I agonized when I had to choose between work and family thinking that if I didn’t maintain the perfect balance that our lives would spiral out of control. In reality, the root cause of the tension I felt between the opposing choices of work and family was me.
When you spend time with the McGees, life slows down. The blur of the calendar goes by frame by frame. In many of those frames, I saw missed opportunities to be INTENTIONAL with my kids. Or with Christy. Time is not the issue, INTENT is. If I am INTENTIONAL about the right things, time has a way of becoming obedient.
If you are a leader, be INTENTIONAL about the things that matter–at work and at home–and you will find like I did that you will have enough time for both.