In the old days, which is anything more than about seven years ago, I would be playing my personal version of “Masters of the Universe” today. The plot would be familiar: take several important meetings, make several important phone calls and send several important e-mails. If it were an unusually important day, I might even be traveling out of town for particularly important meetings.
I would likely do a small internal eye roll if people no-showed at one of these important meetings or were otherwise not available because of something minor like a missed school bus (forcing someone to be late because they had to drive their child to school) or a sick child. Why, I’d wonder, can’t they get their kids to the bus on time or make sure they take care of their kids so they don’t get sick.
And then my son J. Traylor came into my life, and everything changed.
Like the Timothy Busfield character in the 1988 classic Field of Dreams (“When did these ballplayers get here?”), I realized that I had eyes but had not seen. Life took on different hues: the old black and white screen became 3D color.
So instead of playing master of the universe today I am playing stay at home parent. I am lucky that I’m plying a craft that gives me the type of flexibility you seldom find in companies big or small. Unless it’s an offsite I’m leading, coaching executives and working with leadership teams seldom hits that one critical time when you “must” be there. And in our two working parent household, I have the more flexible schedule than my spouse who is a psychiatrist (“Sorry to hear that you’re feeling really depressed– can you hold those thoughts while we reschedule your appointment for later this week when my child is back at school?”)
It’s the nature of companies, which at their very core are predicated on people doing things together, to exert a gravitational force away from parents staying at home to take care of sick kids. While some firms are better than others it’s still a tough pull: most people I know who work in companies still go to work if they are sick. Even when I ran my own shop as a Senior VP of Human Resources for a $13 billion company it was hard to take the unplanned day off. For many parents the choice is go to work to be able to feed the kids, or stay home and miss a paycheck.
But I am lucky to be in more flexible space and my day today will be different than I had planned. I’ll miss a 20-person breakfast event I was keen to attend put on by Six Seconds that would have increased my knowledge and understanding of emotional intelligence. And at the breakfast meeting I missed out on the opportunity at the to meet Chip Conley, who I’ve wanted to meet ever since his book “Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow “came out. And last, while in a business where who you know stands only behind what you know and how well you do it, I’d also miss out on an opportunity to meet the Head of Human Resources for Levi’s.
Instead Traylor and I will talk about our important things (“Pop: who owns Looney Tunes and how do they get the sound into the cartoons?”) and catch a movie or two and read some books curled up together in a womb chair. And I’ll be able to blog this post while my spouse picks up some relief time in the middle of the day.
My son is a great kid who is smart, funny, caring and big of heart. And while playing parent staying at home is not Iowa or baseball, it sure looks and feels like my personal field of dreams.
New Rules is an occasional set of writings focused on changes in norms, culture, or ways of navigating work, organization and careers. More about executive and team coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above.