I Quit My Job to Get My Life Back
Don’t just balance your work with your family, build it around them.
A few months ago I posted a personal picture on LinkedIn, and something happened.
Professionals wanted to talk about it.
The physical visit to a school play was not the breakthrough here. What I celebrated is that to this day I have never been fully present at one of my child’s events.
This was a major breakthrough for me. On a weekday, I could turn off my brain and give my full energy to someone I love. It feels good!
My mind wandered for a split second, but it wasn’t about work. Every time I see a duck costume, my 80s brain is going to create a neural connection to Howard the Duck. I just have to get this out of there.
Well that’s a wonderful thing (all for our son, not the scary duck movie) but the fact that I felt that way was some kind of triumph that made me sad too. I mean, how deep did I sink if I was a caring dad for an hour that was registered as a success?
Questions like these lie in a mental dumpster fire where I throw away all of the not-so-proud pieces of my human experience. I am learning to find strength in these mistakes, not to regret them. And through the process, I came to a conclusion.
From the time my wife and I had kids until now, I’ve been scared.
I spent my energy worrying about what would happen if I failed at my job instead of focusing on what would happen if I was even better at being the best father and husband that I could be
This is crazy because I’m good at what I do. I’ve been fortunate to have learned from some of the best in my field and to have done jobs that people in my industry admire. Still, I let the doubter win in me. I just didn’t think a tall, lanky guy from rural Wisconsin could do that. Or maybe even that I deserve it.
That’s what it looked like every day.
Pretty much everything I did at home during the week was rushed. I took children to school. I hurried to have dinner. I hurried except for the time in the office. The more I was visible there, the more I felt achieved.
Sure, my kids knew I loved them, but they didn’t feel it in the small, comforting way. Like in time to leave work in time to play with them in the yard before dinner.
And yes, my wife knew I loved her, but she didn’t feel like a good partner. Like talking after the kids go to bed with no computers on my lap.
I know that I am not alone with this unhealthy vortex. I was overwhelmed when I read a UCLA research study that found that double-income couples and young children only talk together for an average of 35 minutes a week.
Only thirty-five minutes a week !?
We spend more time on social media in a week than talking to the people we depend on most. This is a violation I couldn’t be more guilty of.
I mean I had everything one could ask for:
A partner who is beautiful inside and out and who has always supported me.
A daughter and a son who adored me.
A cozy home with funny neighbors around us.
Everything was fine there.
But also the work and my inability to see the bigger picture. I had to get out of my head, but couldn’t. There is a simple translation for this kind of madness: “You suffer more in your imagination than in your reality.”
I only recently heard of this quote from Seneca. It’s amazing how relevant this is even thousands of years later than it ever was. I wasn’t good enough in my imagination. I was stuck and always played defense. So I decided to just blow everything up to take offense at the restrictions I put on myself.
I’m quitting my job
I started a company with two friends and I know everyone out there who has ever started a business says, “Dude, you’re crazy, this is a lot more work!” A year later, I assure you I understand.
But here’s the deal. It wasn’t the business that got me going. I wanted the counter conditioning. I wanted to retrain my brain. As you can see, I have always seen my two business partners as better husbands and fathers than me.
They talked about family before work whenever we caught up. Their wives would send them encouraging text messages during the day, and I could always tell that they didn’t have to remember to be a team player – they just did. They were very productive because they were motivated to spend as much time at home with their family as possible.
Given the old saying, “You are the average of the five people you hang out with the most,” I wanted to make that impact a reality in my life. It was the best way I could imagine making real, lasting, powerful changes.
And it works.
Am I cured after receiving their influence every day for a year? No.
Was I able to wean myself from bad habits and feel progress? Absolutely.
Here’s what I’ve learned from my “Dad Mentors” after working closely with them over the past year (our “office” is currently a shipping container).
At least four days a week I go out and run around the neighborhood. At first I could barely run for half an hour without running, but now, a year later, I am starting to refer to myself as a “runner” and I’ve lost 20 pounds in the process. Most of all, I have the opportunity to reflect on the day ahead and how I can try to be the best for myself. It is much easier to listen to others when you have taken the time to listen to yourself.
There is also another level. I learn more about myself from listening to the Tim Ferriss Show. He does a hell of a job making his guests feel vulnerable and speaking openly about their mistakes. That introspection, combined with the endorphins (or whatever scientific stuff is going on in my trotting father body) is powerful.
It is trendy to speak of “always being positive” and I am not sure that this is realistic. Sure, you can find a silver lining in anything if you think hard enough and turn things upside down, but that doesn’t mean it feels positive.
I’ve learned to take a break before reacting at work, but it’s far more important at home. Your family deserves the best, and taking a break to let your best self shine through is a great way to make it happen. It is easy to say, but very difficult to put into practice. I struggle with this almost weekly, but I take pride in being aware of it and making my discussions at home as thoughtful as my business.
This is probably the most difficult, but the most transformative. Instead of asking my wife what I need to do (create another task for her), I am now asking what she needs (so I can help her with it).
It sounds small, but I’ve noticed that it means more to my wife. It means I prioritize their happiness, not just what I have to do to skate as a contribution to daily household chores.
So here it’s people who add the moral to my little story. When you are where I have been, I encourage you to take a step back and evaluate how your job is affecting your relationships. That doesn’t mean taking a drastic leap like quitting your job and starting a business, but it does mean making it happen:
Don’t just arrange your work with your family; build them around them.