I’ve written about the tyranny of ‘or’ before. Turns out, in your mid (to-late) 30s, one of the toughest “ors” is work vs. family.
Don’t get me wrong, it should be an “and” not an “or” — but that doesn’t hold up well in reality. When a sales guy schedules a 4:30pm on a Friday, directly over-lapping the planned family skiing outing, and becomes or. When you travel internationally, and calling the kids before school means stepping out of a room full of VPs and their high-powered meeting, its an or. But those are fairly manageable ors.
If career growth requires re-location, it means taking your kids out of their environment and trying to re-plant them somewhere new, and that’s a little harder to choose. On one side of the picture, its the job that provides the environment, and when only one parent is working, the job needs to take priority. The job provides the home, so it doesn’t matter how comfortable things are right now — that comfort goes away without a job. On the other side of things, there’s a difference between job having, and job growing. Its probably possible to just have the same job for a long time (an entire childhood?) and not progress at all. If that’s true, then comfort is only at risk if the employer goes away.
Unfortunately, I don’t know what that latter scenario looks like. How do you decide, in your career, that you’ve reached the point of “enough” growth? At what point does someone say to themselves, “this is what I want to do forever?” Because if its possible to hold the same relative position for 20 years, while your kids grow up and launch out on their own, I’m quite sure its impossible to resume your previous velocity when that time period is up. At some point, it must become clear to all who observe you that you are no longer capable of anything else. So the bargain you find you’ve struck is that you can stay comfortable for 20 years, as long as you’re willing to stay there for 45.
And I have a pretty big data sample to back-up this theory. I’ve met many colleagues over the years who’ve been doing the same job most of their lives, and are just hanging on until retirement. Of those people, the post-retirement dreams I’ve heard reflect the stagnation they’ve come to accept. One guy I met, near his last day, thought he might go to dog shows in his retirement. Another was going to join a gardening club. If someone had told those people when they were 20 that thing they were working toward for the next 4.5 decades, the culmination of their career, the pinnacle of their achievement, and reward for their years of steady labor… was dog shows or gardening… would they not have run away screaming?
And isn’t escaping that worth some discomfort for the family? After-all, our kids learn from our example. For all they may resent the discomfort of change, would their adult selves not more intensely resent having a pattern of blandness instilled in them? Ben asked me the other day why grown-ups don’t have the same imagination that kids do. Maybe its because we’ve traded imagination for stability and comfort. Once you’ve put on the harness of a 30-year mortgage, and found a good school for your kids, maybe you can’t tolerate anything so scary as change, so you accept that things you imagined as a child were fiction, and that this is all you’ll ever be…
How do you balance what your kids need now, with what you’ll both need in the future? What if settling for something that seems good enough now, means you miss the opportunity to give them something great tomorrow?
Don’t read into this that we’re moving anywhere. We have no plans to, and we’re trying to avoid anything that might cause such a plan to emerge. But the corner I’ve found myself painted into is starting to feel pretty constrained, and if I can’t find a window to crawl out of, we may eventually have to entertain some ors again…