September 25, 2011

Does your career define your family, or does your family define your career?

We cannot assume a correlation between the level of success we achieve in our careers and what is best for our family. Even if we are in careers that provide some benefit to society, reaching the next rung on the ladder of influence or impacting one more life does not necessarily mean that we're doing the best thing for our family. We are blessed if we have the opportunity to do what we love to do every day, but even then that does not mean we can assume we are doing what is best for our family. We might be the best in our group, company or even in our industry, but being the best does not invariably mean we are doing what is best for our family.

The most important question to ask oneself, therefore, is not:

-- What is my five-year career goal?

-- What can I do that will result in the greatest social or financial ROI?

-- What do I enjoy doing?

-- What is the next big industry and how can I make big money in it?

-- In what area can I become a thought leader?

The mosts important question to ask oneself is:

-- What is our family goal?

Your career is a vehicle, not the finish line. It is the means to an end, not the end. That's not to say that your career is not important. It's also not to say that no great thing can be accomplished in and through a great career. What I am saying is that everything should begin with family. It's our first and greatest responsibility; and it's the only thing we will one day regret not spending more time on.

Once you identify your family goal, then the challenge is to find a vehicle (career) that can take you there. This is where, for many people, the paradigm really has to shift significantly. You see, what many of us seem to put our passion, sweat, and money into more than anything is our career. Our LinkedIn profiles (meaning: progression in our careers, our resumes) have, for many, become a measure of success. We ask each other: "What is your dream job?" This really means: "Where are you headed based on your career being the defining factor?" But I rarely hear people ask: "What is your dream scenario for your family? How is your family defining your career?"

An important piece of the paradigm shift is this: the best thing for your family might be for you to make less money or take on a role with less responsibility, at least for now. Or the best thing for your family might be to explore opportunities you've never considered before. What's most important is the lens through which you evaluate opportunities. I believe the lens should be a "family goal" that you use to evaluate every decision you make for your career. The question to ask is: "Will doing this allow me to take a step closer to the place we want to be as a family?" The family goal trumps financial and/or social goals. It also trumps any feeling of impossibility -- no matter how "stuck" you might feel in the career you are in, the family goal challenges you to look beyond your immediate circumstances. The family goal is the lens through which you should evaluate career decisions and career success.

The goal should not be developed within the restrictions of your current life or within the limitations you might have in your mind regarding what is possible. The goal for your family should be unrestricted and should be whatever you believe would be ideal. That's the stake in the ground. That's the finish line you drive towards; it's the finish line worth driving towards.

There is no social impact great enough, no pay day big enough, and no role grand enough to be worth exchanging for your family goal. On the flip side, there is no rut you can't climb out of and no cycle you can't break out of in order to pursue your family goal. The danger is in allowing the career you are in -- whether you love it or hate it -- to define (restrict) what is possible for your family.

Your career is a vehicle that should take you where you want to go. I believe you can be passionate about what you do, bless others, and earn a sufficient (even significant) income while still doing something that allows you to do everything you want with and for your family. What's your family goal? What do you want to be able to do with your family and for your family? That's where you don't compromise. Everything else is up for evaluation. Instead of allowing your career to define what is possible for your family, you can determine that your family will define what is possible for your career.

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