BILL ENTERED THE WORK FORCE WITH ALL THE SUBTLETY of the space shuttle entering the earth’s orbit. With an MBA from Harvard and tremendous leadership instincts, it seemed his destiny to move from one accomplishment to the next.
Growing up, Bill had watched his father work sunup to sundown plowing fields, mowing lawns, and working in a factory. But somehow the family never seemed to get ahead. With the opportunities Bill had been given to make a better life, he felt a responsibility before God to be a good steward of those prospects. In essence, he felt called by God to achieve his maximum career potential as a servant-leader in business.
And achieve he did.
Upon graduating from Harvard, Bill was offered his dream job—he was one of the first four people hired for a new General Motors startup soon to be known as Saturn. The Japanese dominated the current small-car market, and GM had ambitious goals of competing against them. It took seven years to prepare for the launch. But when the first Saturn rolled off the assembly line, the American car market would never be the same.
Fueled by that early success, Bill moved up quickly through the GM ranks. His skills, gifts, and work ethic made him perfectly suited for high-level executive leadership. He was destined for the top. At the age of thirty-four, he received an incredible offer to become the president of Saab Cars, USA. So he left GM to take on a whole new level of demands. Bill excelled in his new position and was soon put in charge of Saab in Asia, South America, and Canada as well. There seemed to be no limit to his future, but at the same time there seemed to be no end to his frustration.
You see, career wasn’t the only arena in which Bill had goals for his life. He and his wife, Carol, had dreams for their family as well. By the time Bill reached his peak at Saab, they had three daughters. While each of Bill’s promotions took them a step closer to reaching their financial goals, each demanded more of his time as well. Time that he knew belonged to Carol and the kids.
Carol embraced her role with the same tenacity Bill exhibited in the marketplace. She was committed to being a team player. She didn’t always like the hand she was dealt, but she accepted it and did the best she could. She held down the homefront while Bill worked to build a bright future for the family. But there was always the frustration, the loneliness, and at times, the anger.
As Bill describes it, “I was traveling more than 50 percent of the time. There were car shows and dealer meetings all the time. And when I was home, I wasn’t really there—I had a late-night conference call with Japan, or an early morning conference call with Sweden. In my heart, I wanted to be with my family. But I felt like this job was something I had to do. Our family had financial goals, and I felt like God had given me this talent that I should be using. And I viewed each promotion as His reward for a job well done. The truth is, I just couldn’t say no. Looking back, it wasn’t God prying me away from my family. It was me.”
One day, a close friend called Carol to wish her happy birthday. During their casual conversation, a wave of emotions began to surface, surprising even Carol. It was the third year in a row that Bill had been out of town on her birthday. He hadn’t forgotten. He just had a job to do. And she had willingly agreed he should go. But somehow, in that moment, Carol was hit with the reality that the very things they were working so hard to achieve were slipping through their fingers with each passing day.
In the weeks that followed, Bill and Carol had many heart-to-heart conversations. Carol shared that the life they were living simply wasn’t what she had signed up for. As Bill began to notice the despair in her countenance, he knew he had to make some major changes. Fast.
“I looked at Carol and she was bawling her eyes out,” he explains. “I knew that if I continued down this path, I was going to lose my family.”
Bill made a decision right then and there. He didn’t have a plan. He wasn’t sure how he could pull off the changes necessary to bring balance to his personal life. He didn’t know how he could disentangle himself from his involvement in the car industry. But one thing was certain: He refused to keep going in the direction he was going. The remarkable events that followed marked Bill for the rest of his life. As he and Carol describe it, the aftermath of Bill’s decision to reorder his world is the clearest indication of God’s presence in their lives and marriage as anything they had experienced.
In the midst of their crisis, Bill and Carol heard me share a simple principle that serves as the thesis of this book. On the occasion Bill and Carol heard me share this simple truth, it was the first time I had ever shared it publicly. I had been sharing this principle with couples for more than a decade in the privacy of a counseling environment. But for some reason, I never considered the value of sharing this principle in a group setting. Since that time I have had the opportunity to share this principle with thousands of business and church leaders, and the response has been overwhelming.
Perhaps the reason I was initially reluctant to talk about this in public is that it highlights a tension I live with every day. This is not a lesson I have learned and put behind me. This is a principle I have to make a conscious decision to apply daily, or it will slip away. Like many people I know, I love what I do. I rarely have a bad day at the office. My work environment could not be any better suited for my gifts and personality. I love to go to work. And like you, I have more to do than I can ever hope to get done. Every afternoon when I leave the office there are loose ends. Phone calls that didn’t get returned. Meetings that had to be cut short. People who need and deserve my undivided attention.
At the same time, I love my wife and kids. I love to go home. And like you, there is more to do at home than will ever get done. Never once have my kids looked at me and said, “Hey Dad, we’ve played enough. Why don’t you run back in the house and see if you can get some work done.” Never once has Sandra complained about me coming home too early or doing too many things to help her at home.
What it boils down to is this: Someone is going to get cheated. Worse yet, somebody is going to feel cheated. Somebody is going to feel as if I am not giving them what they deserve or need. The issue is never, “Am I cheating?” The issue is always, “Where am I cheating?” Or, “Where am I choosing to cheat?”
Everybody cheats. We have to. You have several important calls on your life. You have career potential to fulfill, a spouse to love, a family to raise, a ministry to perform. The list goes on. Each of these things has tremendous merit in your life and for the world at large. None of them should be neglected.
However, when you consider the limited number of hours in a day, there’s no way you can reach your full potential in all of those areas. There’s just not enough time.
Your situation isn’t that different from mine. If you stayed at work until everything was finished…if you took advantage of every opportunity that came your way…if you sought out every angle to maximize your abilities, improve your skills, and advance your career…you would never go home.
Likewise, if you stayed at home until every ounce of affection was poured out in all the appropriate places…if you kept giving until every emotional need was met…if you did every chore, finished the “honey do” list, and did everything necessary to ensure that everyone felt loved…you would never make it to work.
In fact, if you are a parent, you know that your kids alone could command every waking hour if you let them. Add to that your fitness goals, hobbies, and friendships. The list is endless and so are the time requirements.
So let me take some pressure off you. Your problem is not discipline. Your problem is not organization. Your problem is not that you have yet to stumble onto the perfect schedule. And your problem is not that the folks at home demand too much of your time. The problem is there is not enough time to get everything done that you are convinced—or others have convinced you—needs to get done.
As a result, someone or something is not going to get what they want from you…what they need from you…what they deserve from you…certainly not what they expect from you. There is no way around it. There is just not enough time in your day to be all things to all people. You are going to have to cheat somewhere. Our knee-jerk reaction to this dilemma is to answer the call of the squeakiest wheel. Whoever creates the biggest mess ends up with the lion’s share of our time and attention. We run from fire to fire, troubleshooting our way through life, rescuing the needy and rewarding those who can’t seem to stay out of trouble.
But that certainly isn’t strategic and it doesn’t solve anything. Over time, our families learn that the only way to get our attention is to create a crisis. And let’s face it. It is amazing how much time we can steal from work when our kids are in crisis. Men and women become incredibly bold with their managers, company presidents, and boards when there is a crisis at home. What was unthinkable becomes non-negotiable.
I know a CEO who just spent twenty-nine days with his wife at a detox center six hundred miles from their home. Twenty-nine days. Yet over the past three years he has done almost nothing in terms of investing in what he would tell you now is his most important relationship. And if anyone had suggested he take a twenty-nine-day vacation in order to invest in his marriage, he would have laughed. But he did—only when he had to.
I know a contractor who almost had to shut down his business in order to attend to his daughter’s drug addiction. He escorted her from one rehab center to another, trying to find her “the best medical treatment in the country.” This is the same guy who could never find the time to complete an entire week of vacation with his family. They left on Saturday; he joined them on Wednesday. But suddenly, he has the time.
Wouldn’t you do the same for your wife, your husband, and your kids? Of course you would. So why wait? Why cheat at work when you have no choice? Instead of allowing the most recent crisis to dictate where you cheat, why not allow your cheating to be governed by the greatest purpose? Why not cheat by design?
But how? How does someone cheat at work without destroying her career? And if you cheat your career goals, won’t that end up cheating your family in the long run? Can a homemaker cheat her to-do list without cheating her family?
These are complex issues. On paper, there seems to be no solution. But all is not as it appears. For as we will see, when we are willing to reprioritize in a way that honors our Heavenly Father, He is willing to touch down in the midst of our personal chaos and bring the order and balance we so desperately desire.
Before we go any further, I need to provide you with a word of warning. As I mentioned earlier, this approach to addressing the collision between work and family is held together by a principle.
Principles are powerful things. In the same way gravity affects everything around the earth, a principle influences everything in your personal universe. Whether you are aware of a principle or not, it still applies. You can ignore it, or you can leverage it. But either way, it goes right on affecting your world. You can break a rule, but you can’t break a principle. However, if you fail to observe a principle, you can break yourself against it.
The principle in this book will cut right to the heart of your priorities. It will test your loyalty and expose your commitment. When exposed to the light of this simple truth, gray areas will suddenly become either black or white. It will reveal your heart as it relates to your family, your work, and your children. This principle will expose your attitude toward your Heavenly Father as well. It may upset you. It may offend you. But one thing it won’t do is lie. If you are ready to take an honest look at yourself, the choices you have been making and why you make them, you are a candidate for change. My prayer is that you can put this principle to work for you, before the consequences of ignoring it have a chance to work against you.