So how do you see your work? Whether it’s outside the home or in the home—as a homemaker or “telecommuter” or both—do you feel a sense of joy and contribution in it? Do you look forward to it, feel grateful for it, take pleasure in doing it well? Is it personal development for you? Or is it escape . . . or monotony . . . or drudgery? Can you hardly wait until the day is over so you can “crash,” move on to recreation, or do something else?
In addition to what we do, the joy and satisfaction we derive from work is a function of why and how we do it. Conventional thinking seems to suggest that the what is the most important factor. But we suggest that at least as important as the what are the why and the how.
An old story from Italy tells of a priest who comes up to three stonecutters working in the hot afternoon sun. The priest asks the first, “My son, what are you doing?”
The man replies, “I am cutting stone.”
The priest then asks the second man, “What are you doing?”
The stonecutter replies, “I’m making 100 lira a day.”
Finally, he asks the third stonecutter the same question.
This worker replies, “I am building a beautiful cathedral.”
What’s the difference? It’s the context. It’s the reason for working.
It’s fairly easy to see how you can love your work if you love the thing you do—particularly if you’re not stressed out about family or other issues. But the truth is that all of these reasons can bring fulfillment and joy. It’s fine to cut stone if you love to cut stone. It’s also wonderful to cut stone if that’s the best way you can provide for those you love. And it’s wonderful to cut stone if you really love the idea of building a cathedral—even if stonecutting is not your favorite thing to do. You may not love the task itself, but the context of love is there.
Though I love a clean house, I haven’t always loved scrubbing floors or cleaning toilets.Though I’ve loved to contribute through writing, I haven’t always loved the deadlines, the intense pace, the struggle to find the right words, the things I’ve left undone as I’ve been writing.
But in both cases, the context has always been there. I love my family. I love helping people. I love the incredible material I’ve been privileged to work with. And that love has literally swallowed up the challenges, the inconveniences, the setbacks.
For me, the context of my work—my love for people and principles—has been a deeper “Yes!” that’s made it easier to say “No” to other things.
So what is your reason for working? And how does it affect the way you see and feel about your work?
For most people, the primary reason to work is a matter of economics: “I owe. I owe. It’s off to work I go.” Or “I have to work ...” Or “I need to provide for my family . . . ”Or “We just can’t make it without two incomes.”
For many, this economic factor is a huge consideration, and it has an enormous impact on the way they see their work. Much of the pain around the issue of balance, in fact, is driven by economic fear—especially in a time when many businesses are dramatically downsizing or going belly up. There’s a nagging worry: “I can’t lose my job. If I did, we’d be lucky to pay our bills for two months.” As a result, people feel trapped in their jobs, compelled to work long hours and afraid to do anything that might make waves.
Too, in recent years, there’s been great social value placed on working for a sense of personal fulfillment and self-worth, career development, recognition, and the “stuff” money can buy. This focus has also had a huge impact on the way we feel about our work.When the primary reason we work is economic—but the social emphasis is on working for individual recognition, personal aggrandizement, or material reward—it’s easy to think that noncareer work is somehow demeaning, that working to provide for the economic welfare of the family is less noble and less satisfying than working for personal satisfaction, recognition, money, and fame. Inadvertently, the task has become enthroned at the expense of the value of work itself.
Certainly, it’s wonderful if you do something you naturally love to do. And there are many things you can do to help create this kind of alignment. But keep in mind: Research indicates that most people entering today’s work force can expect to go through a number of job changes during their lifetimes, some of which are so significant they could actually be considered career changes. Research also shows that most people who have accumulated significant wealth and also feel a significant degree of balance in their lives do not have the “glamorous” jobs. They are “welding contractors, auctioneers, rice farmers, owners of mobile-home parks, pest controllers, coin and stamp dealers, and paving contractors” who have simply learned to live high investment, low consumption lifestyles.
The point is, you don’t have to have the most exciting, thrilling, high profile job in order to be successful or to love your work. That very expectation can cause you to waste years feeling dissatisfied and unfulfilled. And that waste is a loss for everyone—for you and your family, as well as the company you work for.
The reality is that you can find deep joy and satisfaction in knowing that your work is your love for your family made visible. And, as we’ll see in Chapter 6, “Money Matters,” there are ways you can manage your money so you’re not continually driven by economic fear.
Recently, I did a seminar for a well-known company with a reputation of hiring smart, successful people. During the discussion, two of the participants shared an experience they’d had the evening before.
They said that during the dinner hour, they decided to jump in their Mercedes and take a run by the ocean before the evening meetings. They parked near the beach, and as they were sitting there, talking and enjoying the cool ocean breeze, they noticed a man getting some things out of an older car. As they watched, this man began to canvas the area and pick up old bottles, paper plates, and other garbage people had left on the sand. Because of his dress, they could tell that this was his job—perhaps even a second job.
These men commented to each other: “Look at that poor guy. What a waste! Cleaning up the beach is all he can do.” Their unspoken attitude was, “Look at us. We’re so educated, so smart. We make all this money and we’ve got this beautiful car. We’re so much better than he is.”
After a few minutes, a young girl came up to the man and began helping him. She’d been sitting on a blanket with several others—evidently her family—a short distance away. As the three men watched, it became apparent that the family sitting on the blanket was this man’s family. One by one they finished their pic nic dinner and came over to help him.
Before long the cleanup was complete and everything was put away. Then the man and his family began to play together, to roll in the sand, to laugh and chase each other on the beach. Obviously, they were having a wonderful time.
The initial attitude of the men who were watching slowly changed from disdain to poignant envy. They realized that while they had been sitting there basking in their own accomplishments and preparing to go to more evening meetings, here was someone who had somehow integrated part of his work life with his family, and, in many ways, seemed to be happier than they were.
Working to provide for those you love is very likely the highest, noblest, most fulfilling motive you will ever have. It’s one of the most important ways you invest in your family. As one study suggests, breadwinning can be “active, responsible, emotionally invested, demanding, expressive, and measuring real devotion.”[3 ]And if it’s done with excellence, it can provide a marvelous legacy of character for your children as well as economic well-being.
As we’ve said before, at the core, it’s not “work” and “family” that are at odds.What is at odds with both work and family is the cultural notion of my career and the focus on all the stuff that accompanies “success” in a materialistic world. And it’s a heart set on those things—rather than on the principles of work and family—that often masquerades as “imbalance.”
In personal interviews, some people have told me that the more they try to create balance between work and family, the worse the situation gets. For a while, this didn’t seem to make sense.
But the more I listened, the more I came to realize that these people hadn’t really come to grips with the long-term preeminence of family. In effect, they were putting family—which is inherently a deep, permanent, lasting emotional commitment—on the same level as a job—which, even at its best, is inherently temporary, unstable, and subject to change.
As a result, family members were feeling insecure. Spouses felt like no more than live-in roommates. Relationships were suffer ing. Efforts to appease family members came across as token and insincere.
The reality is that temporary emotional relationships will never produce permanent love. And as long as people genuinely struggle with which is more important—family or career—relationships come across as temporary.
If you feel the need to consistently apologize to your family about your work, you might want to ask yourself: “Am I really doing our work—work that’s a vital, contributing part of a robust physical, mental, social, and spiritual family economy—or am I doing my work—focusing on my career, my personal fulfillment, my independent achievement?” If it’s my work, you may want to consider the impact it’s having in your effort to create balance. If it’s our work, make sure your family knows.
At the core, my career/home balance and stuff/home balance—as distinct from work/home balance—are not scheduling issues; they’re issues of the heart. And until you’re resolved on a heart-set level, no amount of effort to create balance is going to fully succeed.
Another factor affecting the way we feel about our jobs is the issue of both parents working when there are children at home. In many ways, this has become the icon of the work/family balance struggle.
For many young parents, it’s almost an unexamined expectation: “Of course we’ll both work. Everybody does.” For others it’s a highly sensitive issue, touching on everything from disturbing social statistics, “latch-key children,” and cell phone parenting, to social contribution, religious beliefs, and women’s rights. Though women have been in the limelight because of their increasing involvement in work outside the home, this subject has also created a growing concern for many men who increasingly worry about the welfare of their children, especially now that mothers, as well as fathers, are gone from home.
Many parents want to be with their preschool children as they take their first steps and say their first words. Some don’t want school- age children to come home to an empty house. These parents are aware of the social statistics that indicate a significant increase in drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy and suicide, and other severe problems apparently exacerbated by the absence of parents in the home.
But they also feel compelled to work outside the home in order to provide for their children’s economic needs—and house payments, car payments, medical bills, education expenses, diapers, braces, and piano lessons all add up. As a result, parents feel torn and imbalanced. They tend to see work as a “necessary evil.” While it enables them to provide for their children, it also devours irreplaceable quality family time.
If the two-working parent issue is creating stress for you, you may be interested in “second shift” research that has turned up some interesting facts.
In married households, the traditional one-breadwinner family of the past has dwindled now to only 21 percent. Along with several major articles, two books—Two Incomes and Still Broke by Linda Kelley, and Shattering the Two Income Myth by Andy Dappen—suggest that in most cases, financial reasons alone do not justify the second income. In simple terms, the second income usually needs to reach $30,000 before even one dollar is contributed to spendable income in the family. And after that, for every three dollars earned, only one dollar is actually spendable income.
Here are some of the reasons:
The second income puts you into a higher tax bracket.
You have to pay for extra goods and services—things you wouldn’t have to buy if you didn’t have the job, such as:
work-related clothes and tools
child care (for families with children)
home services (house cleaning, lawn care, home repair, shopping help)
convenience shopping items (microwave dinners, packaged “quick fix” and deli foods)
guilt gifts (“Mom and Dad will both be gone, so we bought you this new video game”)
You engage in higher (gross income) spending, even though the disposable income doesn’t go up that much (“Look—you’re making $50,000; I’m making $45,000. Together, we’re making $95,000! We can afford this!”)
In many instances, the only thing the second income really “adds” to the family is the tremendous stress of trying to handle home and family needs with both parents gone from home. The real tragedy comes when a parent who doesn’t want to work ends up working, and—bottom line—there’s no economic gain.
Obviously, every circumstance is different. But knowing the facts and options with regard to a second income can help you make the decision that’s right for you. The important thing is to make sure you’re connected with your inner compass so that you don’t just play out some unexamined social script, but instead you’re clear about what is important to you and why you work. It’s also vitally important to ensure that you and your spouse see eye-to-eye on work priority decisions.
When Roger and I began dating, there was tremendous social pressure for women to focus on career. I loved learning and was grateful to have received a full academic scholarship to a wonderful university. I had started on a path that included plans for both undergraduate and graduate degrees, and marriage was not even on my mind. But it didn’t take many dates with Roger for me to start thinking that I might want to consider changing the plan.
The following summer, we were married. I continued for another year at the university. But when we had our first child, I came to a major fork in the road. Though I took a few more classes off and on, I discovered that deep inside me was a compelling and growing conviction that the greatest life contribution I could make was to really focus on loving and nurturing this child and others we wanted to have. I didn’t fully understand it. Almost everything around me seemed to contradict it. But I felt it. And somehow I knew that listening to that inner voice was the one thing that would bring the greatest fulfillment and joy. So I made the decision to invest what time, talent, and energy I had primarily in our family.
Over the years, carrying out that decision has not always been easy. There have been times when messy diapers, skinned knees, runny noses, and teenage identity crises seemed overwhelming. There have been times when I have felt mentally understimulated, physically overchallenged, and occasionally unappreciated. There have been times when we had to scrimp and save and do without some of the things two incomes could have provided. But there have also been times when I felt real joy in discovering creative ways to engage talent and capacity in family leadership and home management.And there have been times when I knew that just being there—listening and loving—really made a difference.
Now, as I look down the table at our family gatherings—as I feel the love and see the choices our children have made in their lives—I realize there’s absolutely nothing else like it. I’m so glad that the quiet voice inside was somehow stronger than the louder voices outside. And I’m grateful that Roger willingly supported my decision to be at home. I am also glad that the past 15 years have brought the opportunity to work with Roger and with Stephen Covey. I feel a great sense of fulfillment in being able to contribute through writing. But I am intensely grateful that the opportunity to write came the way it did . . . and not in the way or the order I would have supposed. I will never regret spending that once-in-a-lifetime season with my children. Living and learning with them has given me something to write about.
One of the advantages of today’s work world is the significant increase in options. Though still tough, it’s easier now than it’s ever been to take breaks and then come back into the work force. Companies are moving toward more family-friendly policies such as job sharing and part-time work. Technology makes it possible for many parents to work from their homes.
Also, as we’ll discuss in Chapter 6, “Money Matters,” the conflict can be enormously lessened if you buck the trend and learn to live a high-investment, low-consumption lifestyle.
If you’re the head of a single-parent family, you probably don’t have the luxury of considering whether or not to work. Gainful employment is most likely an economic necessity. Again, there’s the temptation to see work as a “necessary evil.”
But some single parents tell us it’s possible to turn the fact that you work for your family into a source of family bonding—especially if you regularly communicate to your children that you love them, you love being with them, and providing for their needs is one of the few things you would consider important enough to justify spending time away from them.
Again, we’ll examine ways to manage your resources to economize and improve your financial position so you don’t have to spend extraordinary hours away from home (see Chapter 6). In addition, you might want to investigate other options, such as job sharing or creating an in-home business, which is one of the fastest growing segments in today’s market.
But when you do have to be away, through your example you can teach your children the nobility of work and sacrifice for those you love. You can teach them to be cheerful in the midst of challenge. Through your work, their own chores at home and outside jobs as they get older, they can learn the importance of all family members working for the good of the family. You may even be able to involve them in your work so they understand what you do and perhaps even help you do it. In any case, it’s far more psychologically and emotionally healthy to cultivate a sense of gratitude for each other’s contribution than to fall into the trap of reinforcing each other in feelings of powerlessness, injustice, or martyrdom.
At the end of this chapter, we’ll share some practical ways that parents—single or otherwise—can build bridges between work and home, and also help children to learn to love their work.
Of course, there are reasons for working outside the home besides economics. Some are fairly obvious, such as making a contribution, building meaningful and productive associations, finding an outlet for a particular talent, relieving human suffering, or bettering the world. Working for these reasons can bring you great joy, help you create a rich, balanced life, nurture the principle of work in your family, and even bond the family through shared work effort . . . provided your priorities are clear and you ensure that you devote sufficient time and energy to those things that matter most to you. Again, the key is to connect to and align with your own inner guidance system.
Other reasons for working may be less obvious. Some, in fact, are subtle and often unrecognized. But they are also vitally important to understand. As sociologist Arlie Hochschild points out in The Time Bind, many people simply find it more satisfying to be at work than at home. At home they face “unresolved quarrels and unwashed laundry”; at work they find compensation, recognition, promotion, “reliable orderliness, harmony, and managed cheer.” Often, without realizing it, both men and women are seduced into spending unnecessary hours at work simply because it seems more satisfying in the short run.
Seeing “happiness” in terms of immediate personal comfort rather than long-term family relationships and quality of life, some people may seem to love their work in the short run—or at least the escape their work provides. But this is not the kind of principle- based love of work that brings deep inner satisfaction and real life balance. And if we expect it to, we’re going to be disappointed.
Again, we’re back to validating expectations. The question is: Are we doing the things that will create the long-term results we really want?
So should you work outside the home? And if so, how much? And when?
Of course, basic economic needs must be met. But to have a loving, successful family also requires that basic mental, social, and spiritual needs are met. And those needs are often greater in certain seasons—when children are very young or parents are very old, or there’s some other challenging situation at home.
Ultimately, there’s not one “right” answer for everyone—or for anyone in every season of life. People are different. Situations are different. Seasons are different. That’s why we affirm once more that real “balance” is “balancing.” It’s the process of making good choices on a regular basis. It’s making sure that you’re seeing your life and your choices in terms of your own navigational intelligence rather than through popular social paradigms, and that you’re doing based on timeless principles and what really matters most.
Whatever your situation, creating and deeply pondering over a personal mission statement is a powerful way to keep connected. A mission statement is the standard against which you can weigh alternatives and options. It helps you clarify—and remember—why you work and why you do whatever you do in every season of your life.
Brown, Bettina Lankard. “Changing Career Patterns.” ERIC Digest 219, ERIC Clearing House on Adult Career and Vocational Education, Columbus, OH, October 2000. Although definitive research in this area is difficult, due to varying definitions of “career,” it is a topic addressed by many career counselors, all of whom agree it is increasing dramatically. This article provides a good overview.
Stanley, Thomas J., and Danko, William D. The Millionaire Next Door. Longstreet Press, Marietta, GA, 1997, p. 9.
[3 ]Christiansen, Shawn L., and Palkovitz, Rob. “Why the ‘Good Provider’ Role Still Matters.” Journal of Family Issues, Vol. 22, No. 1 (January 2001): 84–106; as quoted in The Family in America, New Research Supplement, March 2001.
Levine, James A. and Pittinsky, Todd L. Working Fathers: New Strategies for Balancing Work and Family, Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA, 1997, pp. 20–33.
www.workandfamily.org. Center for Work Family Balance. Research tables of collected data. Table 15, Composition of Working Households.
Kelley, Linda. Two Incomes and Still Broke? Random House, New York, 1996; Dappen, Andy. Shattering the Two-Income Myth, Brier Books, Brier, WA, 1997. See also the Motley Fool Website (www.fool.com), which offers an online calculator, Should My Spouse Work?”
Hochschild, Arlie R. The Time Bind. Metropolitan Books, New York, 1997.