There is a job search going on in our family right now and I find it fascinating. The work on offer is interesting and, I’m sure, quite busy making. As the conversation gets closer to terms of engagement, talk turns to how many hours are required, face time, evening BB availability and, oh yes, the occasional evening and weekend.
When I recently moved from one position to another I invited the woman who had previously held my title out for a coffee to get the lay of my new professional land. At one point she leaned in conspiratorially and confided that the job kept her busy “70 to 80 hours a week.” You have to give it 100%.” I’m not sure where she gets her sense of percentiles but given that one only has a 100% to give in a day I had to assume that she had nothing left for anyone or anything else. I hope I’m wrong and she just wanted to seem like she really worked hard. Whether that’s true or not for me actually depends on my level of engagement and empowerment. In truth when I feel valued and engaged in real decision-making I feel deeply motivated. When I am just another mule on the team — not so much.
That being said, I find it sad and wrongheaded that we are asked to sacrifice our families and friends on the altar of good pay and long hours. We have to stand up for the right to be in our families — men and women. It is our right to attend to and nurture the love we share.
We say that family comes first but the opposing message is strong — If you’re serious about work, you’ll go the extra mile, or miles.
I recently interviewed a very accomplished man. He has run the City of Toronto, the Blue Jays, the Toronto Sun and now the National Post chain of papers. His name is Paul Godfrey — you may know of him. He appeared to be a very good man and, he told me that family comes first. I then asked him what his work schedule looked like theses days — at 72 years of age. He said, “I work about…16 hours a day, 6-8 on Saturdays and maybe 4 on Sundays, depends.”
I couldn’t help asking “So Family comes first?” The audience laughed. Paul Godfrey is a success and lion of the executive class. We heap praise on those that give up everything for work — Olympic athletes, CEO’s, the officer manager down the hall.
These are the cultural norms — the quid pro quo for a middle class life or better — or less for that matter.
As a man who has, and still is raising children, I object. I am angry and I am sad that all around me, good people must engage in the theatre of work above all to keep their jobs and ironically their families afloat.
All the more reason why we must find ways to build community by unplugging and, as Leonard Cohen once told me, building a fence around the sacred. Invite people to eat and share with you once a week, leave the BB on a shelf and steal some valuable time back for you and your loved ones. Start your own Sabbath Project. Don’t fuss over the food too much. Keep it simple. Invite those you miss and those you don’t know well. Pause before the meal and let everyone say a few words about who and what they want to bless. Acknowledge and be grateful for.
Let’s reclaim our lives one meal at a time.