Kids and career don’t mix, according to local lore.
Many millennials these days are delaying having kids due to career considerations. They want to “get ahead” (whatever that means) before settling in for the doldrums of parenting. In an age when most people would rather nurse a beer than a baby, being a parent in my mid-twenties makes me something of an anachronism.
Children often become the scapegoats for their parents shortcomings. You see this in the mom who always blames her kids for being late. You see this in the dad that says he “chose his family over his career,” as though these two must necessarily be in opposition to one another. Especially when it comes to career, people often play the role of sacrificial martyr, saying things like, “I would have chased my dreams, but I had kids.”
Before I became a father, I’d always heard that becoming a father is a huge, paradigm-shifting responsibility that causes everything to glow in a warm paternal light. People always said things like, “Just wait until you hold your son for the first time, you’ll know what I mean.” Well, strange as it may be to say, I didn’t feel any of that at first.
I remember the life-changing moment my son was born like it was yesterday. When I held my boy for the first time, my first thoughts were on just how alien and foreign it seemed. Who was this big, chubby baby on my chest? Why was he screaming? Where’s that warm paternal glow I should be feeling?
My son broke his collarbone during birth. Because we had him at a hippie, all-natural birthing center (fabulous experience, by the way), this meant he had to be transported via ambulance to the nearby hospital, causing us to be separated from him while we drove over in our own vehicle.
I think every parent, when freshly separated from their baby in the hospital, can’t help but feel anxious that perhaps the nurses will swap tags and mix up their child for another. I’ve never been good at faces or names, so the idea of losing my child in this way was weighing on my mind as I raced into the NICU. Quickly scanning a room filled with a dozen tiny babies, I quickly spotted mine.
Surrounded by rows of tiny babies, there he was. My massive 10 pound 5 ounce baby sunning himself spread eagle underneath a heat lamp, only a diaper shielding his modesty. For me, that was the magic moment, the moment thousands of years of paternal instinct had been grooming me for. And it was powerful. And yes, I did feel that paternal glow.
Becoming a father for the first time brought about a number of rapid changes in my personal life. Because the personal and professional continuum is just that (a continuum and not neatly divided blocks, as is often thought), my personal transformation inevitably led to a transformation in my career. While the benefits of fatherhood are many, here are a few of them as they relate to my career.
Fatherhood refocused me on my priorities. It’s really easy to put your career first. What’s not easy is having the discipline to come home at a decent hour, to put time and effort into your marriage, and to reconnect with old friends. What’s not easy is making sure you take time to educate yourself and to grow as a person, so you can be a better man for your wife and son. Becoming a father helped me frame my priorities more fully. My family is one of my highest priorities. So, when I consistently prioritize lesser things over them, fatherhood is that nagging gut-check to remind me to bring my focus back to those things that truly matter. It just so happens that this gut check greets you at the door with wet, slobbery smile when you get home from work.
Fatherhood clarified my long-term goals. When I initially started my career, I was kind of thinking, “well, we’ll stick to this as long as it’s interesting.” I actually had three resumes I sent out, symbolic of the three potential career paths. It just so happens my “sales” resume landed me my current job. I didn’t really have any long-term goals or objectives, aside from vague ideas about “success.” Being a father has forced me to take a longer-term perspective. Instead of thinking one or two or three years out, I now have to think in terms of decades. This is a powerful shift in mindset that has helped me clarify the type of life I want to live and the type of work I want to be doing.
Fatherhood gave me a reason beyond myself. Figuring out what your why is has become popular advice. Become a father gave me this massively large mission that was completely beyond my own agenda. Instead of simply choosing what I wanted for my own sake, I had another life completely dependent upon me and my wife. My son has given me a big why to my what.
Fatherhood limited my options. In a world where everybody wants more choices and more options, a limiting of options may sound like a strange and paradoxical upside. That upside has been essential to me. Because of cars and transportation and the internet, barriers to new careers and possibilities have never been lower. You can start a new career tomorrow, with just free resources available online. You can start a business or branch out into a new market. There are so many options for you to pursue. At times, I’ve felt overwhelmed by the number of options. The wonderful part about fatherhood is that it has limited my options significantly. Many of the things I thought I would like to do at some point are no longer options. This is a good thing. This limiting factor has actually helped me feel less existential dread and less worry that I am missing out on opportunities. It’s helped center and focus me into the few wonderful options I have available, rather than the thousands of mediocre options I had before. Sometimes, less is more.
Fatherhood teaches you not to quit. When my wife and I became parents, we often talked about how becoming a parent was a bigger deal than getting married. Ultimately, when you get married, if things go terribly wrong, you can get divorced. When you become a parent and things go terribly wrong, you just have to persevere. In the same sense, when things go terribly wrong in a career, we can often be tempted to just walk away and find something new. But perseverance pays off.
Fatherhood strengthened my marriage. Your marriage is a key part of your career. I’ve seen several careers derailed by marriages. Stress at home rarely gets completely checked at the door of the office. Fatherhood strengthened my marriage by giving me a profound level of gratitude and appreciation for my wife. I have been completely astounded at the many hardships she and countless other women go through in the journey of motherhood. While being a parent is a deep joy, it’s not always fun. And my wife has sacrificed much more in our young parenting journey than I have. The recognition of this fact has filled me with a deeper love for my wife than I had previously known.
While your situation may vary from mine, the journey of parenthood is one that has many benefits in all areas of life. I have found a more robust joy and happiness in fatherhood than I had experienced in anything prior. While there are hard days, there are many, many, many more moments of magic and mystery. The miracle of life is truly just that: a miracle.
When people move beyond the idea that being a parent is the end of your life and instead start looking at it as a new beginning, beautiful things can happen. Your children are not a roadblock to you living the life of your dreams, so stop acting like they are. Your kids are not anchors weighing you down. They are opportunities to focus on what’s important, what truly matters, and what is essential.
The experience of becoming a parent makes you a better person, which, in turn, makes you a better employee. I am more patient, focused, goal-oriented, and self-aware than I was before I became a father. Thanks for that, son.