It’s the week of Thanksgiving. For many of us, that means that we will get to gather with family and friends and give thanks for what is most important in our lives: those same people with whom we are celebrating. For me, there have been at least two major events in the last six months besides Thanksgiving that have reminded me of this – the loss of my father in May, and the wedding of my daughter in October. As I reminisced about the gratitude I feel for the influence my father had in my life and for the joyous experience of having participated in my daughter’s moment of marriage, I was also reminded of a life lesson a shared a couple of years ago. It was an important lesson for me when I first really “got it,” and it also seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people, so it seemed appropriate to share it during this week that focuses on the value of family. It is the lesson that your family is more important than your job.
This statement – “your family is more important than your job” – is one of the most valuable lessons I have learned in my leadership development. So important, in fact, that over the years it has been one of the more frequent statements that I have shared with others in conversations about job decisions, especially when they have come to me struggling over what the best decision is for their family. The lesson initially came home to me shortly after I had stepped into my first senior leadership role.
I had been working in an organization where I had been very effective, and had played an important role in helping to bring about valuable and significant change. It seemed that I had been able to have positive influence on the organization and on many people within and connected to the organization. Looking back, I can see that my ego was being fed, and I was becoming prideful in my perspective. In the development of my personal work ethic, I had been taught to work in such a way that I would become more important to the organization than the organization was to me, but in my pride, this grew into the sentiment that I was invaluable to the company. I began to believe that if I were to ever leave, the organization would suffer and would take a noticeable step backward.
And then it happened. I was given an opportunity to become the leader of another organization, one that was experiencing struggle and decline. Although I had anxiety about whether or not I was prepared or capable, and about the unknown of this new experience, I was also excited, and anticipating the change to again be an agent of change. My family was very supportive and excited along with me, encouraged me in this opportunity, and embraced the prospect of this new experience. So, we loaded a moving truck, packed up our family, and moved a thousand miles away to a new home and a new life.
As I left the previous company, I secretly believed that my loss would hurt, and even had the arrogance to think that it would require two people to replace all that I was doing. I imagined in my mind that I would soon be hearing about how much they missed me, and how much they realized I had meant to them. But then, the unthinkable happened – they moved on without me! They hired someone else with his own set of skills and passion, they adjusted, and they continued to move forward. Meanwhile, I was struggling to win the support and trust of a skeptical group of people who had no idea what I had accomplished or what I could do.
It was then that I began to realize I was not irreplaceable. I figured out that, other than in my own mind, none of my accomplishments came with me. Don’t get me wrong here – the experience came with me, which was very valuable in helping me to do the job well. But this new group of people didn’t know and didn’t care what I had done someplace else. And all of a sudden, the only thing I had left to support and encourage me was my family. I realized that I had actually been pouring my energies into accomplishment at work at the expense of my family. I also realized that at any time I could lose or leave that job, but if that happened and I lost everything that came with my work (including recognition and accomplishment), I would still have my family. Like switching on a light, I suddenly understood that my family was more important than my job. Life moves on, jobs and careers change, and although I may have some influence and leave behind an impact, just about he only thing that goes with me moving forward is my family. So if my job is costing me my family, the job needs to go before my family does.
I believe wholeheartedly that this is one of the most important lessons you could learn. It is a “meaning and contentment of life” type of statement. No one is irreplaceable. When you leave an organization or a job, remember that they will move on without you, but your family will be the one thing goes with you. Never forget that your family is more important than your job.