I recently started reading the book Present Over Perfect: by Shauna Niequist. In a nutshell, it has revolutionized my way of thinking about what it means to live intentionally, and cut yourself some slack along the way. Here’s a great quote which pretty much sums up her premise:
We have authority, and therefore more responsibility than we think. We decide where the time goes. There’s so much freedom in that, and so much responsibility.Shauna Niequist
Though the book is written from the perspective of an exhausted wife, mother, and business owner, make no mistake it speaks to many of us fathers, husbands, and dads in the marketplace as well. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re just as tired as our wives, weighed down perhaps by a different set of expectations, but burdened just the same. It’s not something men tend to discuss though, this idea of pace. I’ve noticed that there’s a growing movement among women, many juggling careers and families who are deciding to take themselves off of the treadmill of more, more, more. There’s not quite a movement like that among men yet. We still pride ourselves too much on what we can accomplish, tying up our worth in production rather than relationships.
But, we’re getting better. A few years back after my wife gave birth to our third daughter I read the book All In: How Our Work First-Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses- And How We Can Fix It Together. It too revolutionized my thinking because in it Levs walks through both the stigma of fatherhood and also the challenges dads face choosing between the marketplace and their place at home. At the time I had just started working for a school district, and in a typical bureaucratic old school fashion, they didn’t even offer paternity leave (they in fact didn’t offer maternity leave!). Since I hadn’t worked there long enough to qualify for FMLA yet, I had to piece together the few sick days I’d acquired along with borrowing ahead some vacation days (which I’m sure was against the “rules”). It was a stark difference from my experience at my previous organization where I took a month of paid leave off for each of my first two daughters birth.
Fast forward to this year, where after the birth of our fourth daughter (yep, that’s right 4), as I transitioned into a new role with another organization, things were dramatically different. I’ve been fortunate to not have to choose very often and it’s a blessing. Case in point: two days ago I hopped on a plane early in the morning to head to St. Louis for a meeting. I arrived, spent time with a group of parents, connected with a team of folks that I’m excited to work with, and was on a plane headed home by 4pm. I arrived home just in time to walk in the door as our small group was getting ready to break bread for our Christmas get-together. Walking in the door, with my girls running up to me saying daddy you’re home!, watching the chaos of 10 children and 8 adults milling about my house, I’m glad I didn’t have to choose. I wouldn’t want to miss either of these opportunities.
But, the reality is sometimes I do have to choose. It makes it easier that I work with a team of folks who all have families of their own, and so we’re all familiar with the tensions. It also helps that when I choose, there’s always a clear value proposition behind the choice. Like today for example, I get to choose to be with an amazing group of parents that I believe will one day change education in this city. I’ll miss a little bit of Saturday time with the girls for the second straight Saturday, but I know I’ll get that time back when I take off next Friday to spend the day with the girls. This is a tradeoff I’ll take because I believe in the work I’m doing on both fronts: as a father and as a leader. It’s these kinds of intentional tradeoffs that define how I prioritize my life during this busy season of raising children and engaging in impactful work. It also requires intentionality every step of the way.
Now I know that the best thing I can offer to this world is not my force or energy, but a well-tended spirit, a wise and a brave soul.Shauna Niequist