A year (or so) in

boardroom

If you recall, when last we left our intrepid hero, he’d started a job at TELUS Digital. It’s now been shortly over a year, so let’s check in, shall we?

[Ed note: I can’t keep that 3rd-person voice up, so abandoning it. But I love the phrase “our intrepid hero”, so the opening stays]

Today, I want to write about parenting. I wrote a post for our corporate blog about my experience as a working dad. And so that’s been on my mind. And then, the other night while out for a post-event drink with a couple of people on my team, I was asked “Do guys talk about the struggle? Juggling parenting and working and gym and shopping and, and, and…?” And I had to think about it a moment – and it’s definitely only my personal experience, but the short answer is “no”, we don’t. I don’t see many examples in pop-culture (TV) or on social-media (outside of dad-blog culture). And it’s not cool, so I’m going to:

It’s hard, y’all. When I was working from home, part time, I had a great life. I got work done, I got to the gym, I saw my kids a lot, I got out with friends. I didn’t cook too much, because I don’t enjoy that much, but I felt on top of it all.

Since coming back to work full-time, this has changed. In the year prior to coming to TELUS, I was really good about getting to the gym 3 times a week – I lost about 50 lbs in 15 months. In the last year, that’s just stopped. I had to make priority decisions, and it lost: I work, roughly, 9-to-5. I can’t get to the gym in the AM, because to get to work on time, I’d need to be at the 7am class. And I can’t do that, because generally, I do the morning stuff at home – get the kids up, make breakfast, make lunches, etc. There’s a 5pm class – which would mean leaving by 4:15, which is really hard. There’s a 6pm class, but that means I wouldn’t be home before 7:30ish, and I’d miss virtually the entire evening with the kids, not to mention a late dinner time that might run over the 8yo’s bedtime.

I no longer feel like I get enough time with my kids, and I’m not satisfied with how I spend some of what I do. Professionally, I interact with people all day long. I’m in hours of meetings every day, I’m leading people, I’m on. As an introvert, this is draining. I show up and bring it every day, and then I’m just wiped. And I need recovery time, alone in my head, to be able to bring this every day. Indeed, I’ve stopped listening to podcasts, even music with lyrics most days on my way home from work because I just don’t want to hear any more talking directed at me. And, and this sucks for my family, because some days I just don’t have it in me to be as present as I’d like to be for them. There are (many) days I just want to stare off into space to recover a little.

I don’t see my friends as much, in part because of the above. But also because everything else that needs to get done – taking the kids to their activities, shopping, laundry, etc – there’s just so much less time to do it all, and that gets prioritized over beers with a buddy. And I do miss that.

So, yeah. Being honest, I don’t feel I know how to balance work and life in a way that feels “right”. I don’t believe so much in “work-life balance” because by the nature of what I do and how I do it, I need to believe in it, and so I tend to think about work all sorts of strange times and ways, and that’s all good. And this is nothing like how hard it was when it was my company, and all the extra pressures that brings. But I don’t feel like I’ve got it figured out. And I definitely look around in wonder at some colleagues with families and wonder how they manage to do it all. Sometimes I make judge-y assumptions about them, but increasingly, I suspect they’re also struggling, and just making different, invisible compromises to make it work for them.

Rethinking “Workaholism”

Working | Playing

Recently, Lauren wrote a really great piece on “The Balance Matrix” – a struggle many of us share, and something I’ve been working hard on my whole professional life. Reading it made me start to re-examine some of my childhood experience.

My parents were (are now really, despite being at least nominally semi-retired) workaholics – they worked, really, all the time. They got up early, went to work, came home, ate food, went back to work. I went to bed and still they’d work. They worked on weekends. They travelled for work. They worked when they travelled. Both my parents are phenomenally successful, and leaders in their respective fields – but boy did they ever work hard to get there.

At the back of our house was a sort of solarium, the sun room we called it. My dad, mostly, worked there. We had a glass-topped table and he would sit at, idly nibbling at the eraser of a yellow HB pencil or a gently pinching his lower lip between his thumb & fingers. He’d be hunched – either forwards, leaning over the table, or back, his right leg cross over his left. In either case, most of the time there’d be several piles of printed documents – journals, study results, his own data – spread over the table. To one side would be his dictaphone. But his focus was always on a lined yellow pad of paper. He’d furiously write away on that, turn a page. He never seemed to go back – he’d just write. I suspect he was constantly writing in his head prior. When he was satisfied, he’d dictate what he wanted to say and someone in the dictation pool at the hospital would later type it up. In more recent times, of course, much of  this would be replaced by his laptop. But not the yellow-lined pad of paper, nor the alternately leaning hunch.

My mother, by contrast, always hid herself away to work. Once my sister moved out, she took over her room and that became her office where she would while away the night, busy writing, researching, thinking, quietly muttering to herself. As a teenager, many a night would I carefully sneak home in the dead of night only to discover that my mum was still up working. Some of that may have been parental worry about her wayward young son, but she’d be up that late nights I was home too.

What’s curious is that although my father worked in a public spot, his work was much more mysterious to me than Mum’s – she would think out loud, talk about her work with us all – I suspect as much to help formulate her own thoughts as to share – while Dad was simply quietly efficient, back there in the sun room.

I swore, as I got older, that I would never be like them. I hated that they always worked, and I thought it a terrible life that I wanted nothing to do with. I loved the idea of indolent evenings spent with my family playing, sharing, living.

But a fun thing happened on the way to the coliseum….

I discovered that I have incredible work ethic – like my parents. I discovered that I too prefer to work in long, straight, deeply-focussed bouts – like my parents. I discovered that I too have immense ambition and drive to succeed – like my parents. I discovered that I too love what I do, and it’s not really work when you love it that much – like my parents.

But I still, even when I want to – try really hard to not bring work home, to not work evenings, to stop and truly experience my own children’s youth. And so I don’t work at home in the evenings. Liam, now in grade 3, is starting to have regular homework – somewhere between 30 & 60 minutes worth 3 days a week. And you know what? it’s a struggle to get him to do it. My sister, who shares many work traits with myself and my parents, doesn’t work at home either. And you know what? it’s a struggle for her to get her kids to do their homework. But, despite all my slacker tendencies at school (sat at the back, never took notes, etc), I always did my homework. It’s just what we did at home – we did our work.

And so, now, I look back at my parents long work hours and don’t just see workaholics chained to their desks. I see amazing parents who not only wanted to succeed, but wanted their children to succeed and modelled how to manage time, how to prioritize work – and most importantly, how to work. I see parents who showed their children how to have a career you love and children you love and work hard at both.

I don’t want to struggle to convince Liam to do his homework and whether he needs to do it – homework’s one of those stupid things that you have to do. But how fair is it, in his eyes, that he has to come home from a long, hard day at school and then do more work when both his parents are sitting on the couch, relaxing? He has no model to indicate that working at home is a normal part of life. And while yeah, I wish schools didn’t give homework and I doubt the utility of it, it happens. And so now, as we embark on this 8+year journey of nightly homework, I think back to how well my parents modelled getting stuff done at home and begin to think they weren’t, perhaps, just insane workaholics.

Perhaps, just maybe, they were teaching me something. And I could teach my children that too. And so, when my kids have homework, maybe I should have homework too. I’m a small business owner. There’s no shortage of things to do. I don’t want to spend my evening doing them, but then, Liam doesn’t want to spend his evening doing homework either. So maybe we should treat this as something of a team sport. We’re all in this together.