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Without looking up from his bowl, he asked me, “How’s your computer?”
I was feeding the kids, preparing an agenda, and emptying my inbox before a full day of conference calls. While my multitasking may be impressive, missing out on limited quality time was not. I can tell you it’s a humbling experience for a toddler to call you out.
Reality Check Awakens Perspective
While most of us don’t have jobs with life-or-death outcomes, we sometimes approach our work with that intensity. Sure, our decisions may have deadlines, our responses may be urgent to another person, or we just want to get something off of our to-do list. So we make small compromises like choosing to work during meals or checking emails in the movie theater on date night. It feels like a practical, necessary trade-off between work life and home life.
Every day there are winners (what we give priority) and losers (what we de-emphasize) between our professional and personal responsibilities, and we hope we’re making the right decisions as validated by our employers and families. If neither complains, we applaud our ability to manage it all. For most of us, work is how we make a living to support the people and things that we love. However, our work ethic has a way of overshadowing the relative importance of the work. If we’re not careful, work gains the upper hand instead of the other way around.
Keeping Perspective Helps Decision-Making
My friend Frank was traveling for work to give a presentation to a client. A couple of hours before the meeting he received a call from his wife, Joan. She was being taken to the emergency room. “It’s probably nothing,” she tried to convince him. “Enjoy your meeting and good luck.”
Frank called his boss and explained the situation, hoping for reassurance that going home was the right thing to do. He was shocked when he heard, “You know you’ve got to give that presentation, right?”
His boss’ lack of compassion brought Frank’s perspective to full focus. Why was he looking for permission in the first place? He knew he would rather be fired than to work for a manager with those expectations. With that, Frank headed home. This was hard for him and the entire flight he was sweating bullets.
Fortunately, his wife’s situation did turn out to be minor, but it changed Frank’s outlook on work in a major way. It's been four years and Frank still works for this company. Ironically, his former boss was let go because of his poor people management skills.
When we’re faced with hard choices, we wonder, Is this a big enough deal? Can I be honest about missing a meeting because of a difficult-to-schedule dentist appointment? Should I cancel the play date my daughter has been looking forward to when my client calls with an urgent request? What will people think?
There’s No Algorithm
I had a situation similar to Frank’s. While in London for business I received a text from my husband that he was taking our baby to the emergency room. We spent the next 30 minutes in a frantic exchange of messages and calls. I needed to know symptoms and see pictures. “Let me hear his cry,” I asked.
My coworkers panicked, too. “Should we get you to Heathrow airport?”
I don’t know! What do you think?! I was looking for some direction.
After an hour on WebMD, I decided to continue my business trip. My son was in good hands, I would never get home in time to be helpful, and I accepted a new-mom’s truth—it wasn’t necessary for me to be right by his side for him to get the care he needs. It was a different choice than the one my friend Frank made, but it was right for my family and my work.
There isn't an algorithm to help make the best decision. What we have are our values, our gut, and the circumstances surrounding our situations. These provide valuable perspective to make a wise decision in the moment.
Keeping perspective helps to manage your professional and personal reactions, and your interactions too. There are big choices like Frank’s struggle on his flight home and small ones like not emailing during mealtime. For both, you'll need to rely on your instinct and sometimes a sounding board, like the candor of a toddler.
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