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Integrating work and home — tech dads need balance too

June 4, 2013

This is a post I just did that really is important to me, and I’m hoping that others find it valuable. It was published by VentureBeat.

I recently had a Twitter conversation with a great friend about an article that really hit home for me. A recent Pew Research study concluded that more fathers feel they aren’t spending enough time with their kids than mothers(including working mothers), and I have to say that it was like someone had done the study at my house.

I am a father who loves my children more than anything in the world. At least that is what I feel.

A chart of my hourly time spent would not make anyone reach the same conclusion.

And that causes cognitive dissonance for me — in a big way. I’m an accountability guy. I look for it in myself, my co-workers, the companies I invest in, and just in general. I strongly believe that priorities are a huge key to unlocking a person’s values, and to success. The way a person spends his or her time tells you everything you need to know about their personal priorities. Guess that puts me squarely in the guinea pig category for one of these studies, and right in the crosshairs of the negative conclusions.

I am going to try to articulate the two biggest issues for me:

1.  I love my job, I take a lot of pride in the work I do, and I get a lot of satisfaction from my work.

2.  I don’t spend a lot of time with my children, and I commonly have regrets and guilt about that.

I haven’t figured out exactly how to balance the two, and I’m not sure that I can. These are like opposing forces for me. Spending more time and being more immersed in my work generally produces better results. There is a limit to this, and if I really get out of balance, it isn’t good, but let’s keep the discussion to somewhat normal ranges.

There are two justifications that I use in my mind to justify my time spent away from my family, and they make logical sense to me:

1.  I am working hard to provide opportunities for my children

2.  I am setting a good example of work ethic to them.

I have to say that every time I state the work ethic one, “The Cat’s in the Cradle” runs through my head, so not sure that one really works for me.

So, is there an answer, or is this just one of those rhetorical questions that makes a point?

For anyone who has followed Stew Friedman’s work, or participated in one of his Total Leadership programs, I think he has the answer.

It’s not about cognitive dissonance, it’s about overlap. It is finding the right balance for you, and accepting that. If you aren’t there, then make incremental changes to try to get there.

I am working on two areas right now that are helping me a lot. One is to be more present when I am with my family, and the second is to include my family more in my work. The first one sounds obvious, but for someone addicted to email, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Not proud of it, but how many people reading this pull out their iPhone during a meal to check emails? I do. What about in a conversation? I am guilty sometimes. Driving? Yes. Stupid? Yes.

The inclusion of family in work is one that I think many people don’t think about that often, but I’m finding it is very powerful. Today I spoke on two panels– the first one was in my daughter’s fourth grade class. They are doing a simulation where they pretend to create businesses, and they brought in parents today who had expertise in building businesses. I spent one of the most valuable hours I have spent in years answering some great questions. Why do you invest in one company and not another? Have you had to fire people? Why? What do you do when you have annoying people that you are working with? What makes people buy one product and not another? Amazing questions!! I loved it. The second panel was also great– it was some experts (not counting me) discussing the latest M&A trends and some thoughts on best practices, opportunities and pitfalls. Great day all in all, but the Fourth Grade Class won for best hour spent.

That is a particular example, but I find that when I engage with my daughters about what I am working on, they have a keen interest. I have also started introducing them to companies I work with, and even bringing them to see different companies. I can expose them to people, companies and ideas that I would never have dreamed about when I was growing up in a small town in Minnesota. I want that for them. When they grow up and make their way, I want them to make informed decisions (as much as possible), and hopefully some of this exposure helps.

So, for me, and this isn’t an answer for everyone, I think I am the best dad that I can be. I have lots of limitations, and I love my work, so the amount of time I spend is less than other dads. But, I am working hard to be present and attentive when I am with my family,and I am looking for opportunities to include them in my work life. It exposes them to my world and also gives me the chance to share what I value with them, not to mention the additional time.

I’m fully aware that I am a work in progress, and that my approach is far from optimal, but for me, I get two major things from this approach:

1.  I don’t feel the guilt when I know I’m fully engaged at work, and also engaged at home

2.  The overlap of work and family is creating stronger bonds and new avenues of communication and connection that I would not have assumed.

What I really want is for someone to create more hours in a day for me, but short of that, I think the key is to be as present as I can be, and to find a lifestyle that is without regrets.

From → Raising Capital

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