Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How Do *You* Choose Between Job and Family?


My friend and HBS classmate, Lindsey Mead Russell wrote a great article for the Princeton Alumni Weekly last year.

In it, she meditates on one of the fundamental dilemmas that faces women: Job or Family?

Lindsey followed a path that many would envy or consider the ideal--she worked part-time managing recruiting for a private equity firm. She was well paid, yet also had lots of time to raise her two beautiful children. Yet even as she accepted congratulations from friends on her remarkable "work-life balance," Lindsey had her doubts:

What does it mean to have a foot in both worlds? I think it can be wonderful or it can be torment, depending on the person and the situation. I’ve always straddled the gulf of the mommy wars, always worked part time, always spent part of my week in an office building and part in the sandbox. I have insisted on keeping a “foot in the door” professionally because I was sure I’d want to “ramp back up” someday. These phrases, so familiar in business school, seem foreign on my tongue now, like a language I used to speak but have lost. The thing that haunts me is this: In being unwilling to give up either world, did I end up doing a poor job in both?

As is often the case, reading Lindsey's writing made me think about my own life, and I wrote an email to Lindsey which I decided should be a blog post:

***

The question of focus is an interesting one, for dads as well as moms.

It is indeed a great luxury and privilege to have so many things that one could do. But as much research has shown, too much choice can impact happiness as much as too little choice.

Especially here in the Valley, it’s a badge of honor to work long hours, and people aspire to see their names bandied about in the press.

I long ago decided that I wasn’t willing to sacrifice everything in the monomaniacal pursuit of a single goal (e.g. the billion-dollar liquidity event).

But I’ve also been unwilling to give up on being an important part of startups.

In theory, shouldn’t I find a nice cushy corporate job? I’m good at getting along with people, so I could probably nestle into the underbelly of a big corporation and make a ton of money without having to exert myself too much. In doing so, would I be a better father? A better provider? Less likely to have to answer random calls from entrepreneurs in the evenings and on weekends?

Am I selfish to do the work I enjoy when I could make a different choice, make more money, and have more time for my family?

What choice do you make in your own life? Because make no mistake, we all make choices.

6 comments:

Niraj said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Niraj said...

Great post Chris. I have an 8 month old and started my most recent venture when he was 4 months, not to mention the months prior of brainstorming. The work-life balance in SV is a constant struggle, but recently I have found myself to prioritize my family more then before and stopping my "day" for dedicated blocks of time to spend with them.

Chris said...

Niraj,

One of the essays I wrote for a friend's book focused on the need for compartmentalization--allocating certain amounts of time to different pursuits, and maintaining that allocation, even when it's tempting to drop everything and focus on the most urgent fire. It's tough, but I think it helps.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful topic. So much of this subject is made to sound like a topic for "The View" or "Oprah." But in these two posts, there's a LOT more feeling when you talk about your personal decisions, good and bad.

I think ambivalence comes with making any choice, which confounds most people. Even a better choice (the one that you say years later, "I made the right one") can leave you feeling somewhat half disappointed. Ambivalence is crazy hard to describe too. I sure as hell don't see it on any magazine, TV show, etc. Everyone wants to come to the concluding sentence.

Lindsey said...

As usual, Chris, this is thoughtful and thought-provoking. I think you make two great points: the first is that excess of options sometimes makes us less happy (which I've read the research on as well) and the second is that even when we are "not choosing" actively we are still making a choice. We ought not shirk that truth even when we want to.

Michael said...

Thanks for your thought-provoking post.

For me, the choice has been simple. I've forgone the "big offer" that accompanies the long hours, and gone for family.

The investment made in my wife and kids far surpasses the benefits found in "chasing the dream" in a startup. Think about it - even if the startup is successful, it is a on-going long-term drain on your time and energy. And while you may end up with job satisfaction and a big wad of cash, it doesn't compare to the satisfaction found in a successful family.

For me, influencing my wife and kids is an investment that far surpasses anything a job can offer. It's taken me 15 years to realise it, but I believe the ROI is going to be far greater in settling for less of a career to be a far better Dad to my kids.