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Here’s a lesson for future working parents, and for those of us already in the thick of juggling work and life.
As a business school professor and an advocate for work-family balance, I feel a certain obligation to not only teach my students what they need to be great business leaders, but also help them gain a perspective that will help them lead a balanced life.
My semester begins today, and I’d like to share an appropriate excerpt from my book, "The Working Dad’s Survival Guide," in which I share some advice for my students, most of whom are future working parents.
I gave a speech a few years ago as part of Sacred Heart University’s sociology speaker series. Before my talk, I was chatting with my host about how I could possibly get a room of a few hundred young sociology undergraduates fired up to hear about fathers and work-family balance. My host took care of that during her introduction.
She asked the audience, “How many of you would like to have a career after college?” Ninety-five percent raised their hands (I think the other 5 percent were texting). Young men and young women in equal numbers. She then asked, “How many of you would like to be parents someday?” Again, another 95 percent. Again, young men and young women in equal numbers.
This was a really simple and clever way to draw their attention to a future that contained both career and family. In my experience, too many young adults make career decisions during or right after college that have huge implications for their long-term quality of life. But they hardly ever consider how their chosen careers will fit their full range of priorities and life goals.
Actually, let me amend that statement. Many of my female undergraduate business students have made their plans for a family a component of their career plans. Most who do so end up with good jobs, but, as famously noted by Sheryl Sandberg, they run the risk of “leaning out” prematurely and closing themselves off to their full range of career trajectories.
The majority were looking at financial success and advancement potential as their only considerations. There’s nothing wrong with choosing a lucrative path, but I wondered if these young men were setting themselves up for work-family conflict and other challenges later in their lives. It seems to me that it is just as important that young men learn to appreciate the truth that so many women spot early. Once you commit to excelling in a demanding career, it becomes hard to scale back without jeopardizing all you’ve worked for. Partner tracks and corporate ladders are not known for accommodating those who try to revise the deal. Big-time income also often means big-time financial commitments. It is deceptively easy to get stuck on auto-pilot and continue pursuing a track, even after our lives and priorities change.
As I realized that my students would benefit from a more thoughtful approach to initial career planning, I also recognized that the need wasn’t limited to them.
The rest of us, wherever we are in our careers, would benefit from a balanced approach to the ongoing management of our careers. Whether it’s our first major step on the career path or our tenth, we should think about the implications for all the factors that have to balance out for a successful life, and whether those need recalibrating.
I’ll carry this lesson back to the future working parents I’ll meet in the classrooms of Fairleigh Dickinson University this semester. I also hope this reminder is something you can consider as you continue to assess and manage your careers.
This piece was originally published on Scott Behson's website. Scott Behson, PhD, is a professor of management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, a national expert in work and family issues, and was a featured speaker at the recent White House Summit on Working Families and the United Nations.