"Are these your kids? They're really cute," a coworker said to me. He was looking at a picture on my desk of my 3-month-old son in my 3-year-old daughter's lap. All of a sudden I felt caught in a lie like I had the stock photo that came with the frame displayed.
Those were my kids in the frame but that's all they were. I realized at that moment that I didn't really know them but felt like I was using them as some sort of trophy to be displayed to others.
I had children that other people were raising. Yes, they lived with me but when I counted up the hours they spent in daycare (around 10 hours a day) and the amount of time I actually spent with them (about 2 hours a day on the weekdays and another 12 hours a day on the weekends). I realized they weren't really mine.
Now, I'm sure you're thinking that I marched into my boss' office and put in my notice to become a stay-at-home mom. HELL NO! While I wanted more time with my children I also wanted a purpose outside my family and working always fed that for me.
It actually took me 2 more years to get the courage up to leave the corporate world to start my own career and life coaching practice and another 18 months to actually make any sort of real income from it, but that's not why you're reading this.
I knew something had to change if I wanted to know my children. I knew there was an answer that wasn't black and white (Stay-at-home vs working). There COULD be a mix and I was going to figure it out.
You may not be wrestling with this exact dilemma. Your problem is changing companies, industries, or even an entire career path. This is for you. Don't worry.
Step 1: Let go of the 40-hour workweek
Who actually dictated this? Oh, factories back in the industrial revolution. I don't know about you but I've never worked in a factory, so why should I work factory hours? Because everyone does. Yes, that is literally the logic we go off of even when study after study finds that the average worker has about 4 hours of quality work time in them.
Is it truly necessary for you to be at a desk for 40 hours or could you do the same level of work you currently do in a shorter period of time? My answer to you is, yes, you can do your entire job in 20 hours. Especially the higher in the organization you go. That's the dirty little secret that no one tells you about leadership, because you aren't actually doing the work you don't really need to put in 40 hours.
Step 2: Rethink where you work
I've created some of the best presentations and documents while sitting cross-legged in my bed. I've also crafted some great emails while sitting on the toilet (don't scoff, you've done it too). My point is, why do we need to sit in a certain building to do our work? This made sense before the invention of personal computers and the internet. You literally couldn't do work unless you were in a specific building where all the tools existed. Except now those tools are in your pocket. Yet, for some reason being in a building is still something we cling to.
Don't get me wrong, meeting face to face with coworkers to formulate ideas, move project plans forward and even have annual reviews is important. But do those meetings happen daily? Be honest, you know the majority of the meetings you go to everyone is on their phone or laptop not even paying attention. Roughly two-thirds of all meetings could be an email. If you disagree please share with me! I'm all ears.
Step 3: Reevaluate priorities
Mental health is at an all-time low across the globe but especially in the US. It's no wonder when we put more value on our jobs than time spent with our families.
As much as I love a good trip to an amusement park with my kids, those aren't the moments they remember most. When I asked my own children recently about their favorite memory of us together they each shared seemingly ordinary ones. My son said he loves helping me make meatballs because he's better at rolling them than I am. My daughter said she loves when I play with her hair right before she falls asleep and we talk about things that happened in both our days.
A friend reminded me recently of an article we both read many years ago about how many Saturdays you get with your children. Do you know how many? 936. She now has a junior in high school and is down to 150. In your 30 year career, you get about 6,240 days.
And it's not just the Saturdays but the moments when you're kids face something hard. It is our place to show them how to deal with those emotions and make healthy, rational decisions. Work allows for stumbles, parenting, not so much.
Who or what are you prioritizing in your life and is it what you want to be prioritizing. This is an essential step because it helps you clearly put into perspective everything else.
Step 4: Let go of security for significance
I do not mean, walk out of your secure job right now and into the unknown where you aren't making any money. I actually mean, let go of the security of your job for just a second and allow yourself to dream again. Remember that? You did a lot of it in high school and maybe college too. You were going to change things, make a difference. But then you got a job making more money than you thought you'd ever make and you chose the safety of that paycheck over your original dreams.
I did too, at first. Then I decided to build an escape plan to find what I loved in my life and put it into my work. I built a plan and worked it for 2 years before leaving the security of the job that offered great pay and benefits. I now outearn that position by a longshot and teach others how to do this exact thing on a daily basis.
My kids are now 9 and 6. I'm an active part of their lives while I grow my business. It CAN be done. Don't let anyone tell you differently.
You may be saying "yeah but you opened your own business, I'm not doing that!" and my answer is nor should you!
You have everything at your fingertips to redefine how you want to work, where you want to work, and what you want to prioritize. There are companies that value this and they are hiring. You just have to decide if you'll let go of a little bit of your current security to make more significance in this world. Anything is possible if you're willing to commit to it.
And just for good measure let me also tell you:
You aren't the wrong gender or sexual orientation for success.
You don't need more education.
You don't need more experience.
You can be more just by being you.