Walking My Talk! How Fatherhood Impacted My Own Work-Life Journey

It is 4:15 a.m.   I have just spent ten minutes haggling with a taxi cab company over how they forgot to pick me up to go to the airport.  It has been sorted out and I should still get there in plenty of time.  I crack open the door to my son Alessio’s nursery to catch a glimpse of him.  Somehow, through the darkness and the silhouette of stuffed monkey’s  and bears, I see his little head through the slats on the crib.  This will be my last glimpse of him before spending 4 days away at a seminar in Las Vegas. 

I pull myself away then check my email on my tablet to make sure I have all my bases covered at work.  I will have lots of things waiting for me when I return from the seminar: organizing a leadership conference, writing more of my dissertation, working on an article for a magazine, and conducting a 90 minute public speaking seminar just days after I return.

 My plate is definitely full.  

The cab pulls into the driveway.  I carry my own bags into the cab.  The cabby tells me it is his first night on the job and that he has never been to the airport before. 

I sigh deeply.  This is my life.

In case you haven’t noticed it by now, I really enjoy talking about work-life issues.  For me it is the perfect mix between making companies successful and making sure employees are treated right.  When I began my PhD journey four years ago I thought I was going to study athletic finance.  That didn’t exactly pan out.   I have a passion for it as a hobby but not as an area of study or advocacy.

Shortly after I began reading up on work-life issues (and the cool strategies that go along with it) I began to notice people were actually interested in my topic.  A lot of the time it came in the form of statements such as “Oh I wish I had more of that in my life” from friends and colleagues.  At other times I found myself talking to managers and business owners and discussing viable strategies to get the most out of employees while also retaining them in a dynamic and pleasant environment.   So I started to do a little consulting, started to speak on the topic, research it, and of course blog.

Then one day my wife handed me an awesome gift: news that we were expecting our first child.

I had no idea how I was going to balance it all.  I instantly became worried about costs, my wife’s health, and how I was going to manage all the projects I had going on in life.  Instantly I cut some extra curricular stuff out and scaled back other projects so that I could complete my coursework and advance to the dissertation stage of my program.  I created a small window of time to actually relax and enjoy life.

It was a small window.  A very small window.

My son was born on May 6.  I was lucky enough to have a few months of relative freedom due to a research grant.  I knew I would have to return to work in August and that made me nervous.  On top of it all I was starting a new job that would require more hours than my previous one and most of them in the traditional 9 to 5 timeframe.

The small window appeared to close.

The change in both my work and my life situation was challenging on two fronts.  First, it created several new factors in my life that changed the dynamic of how I allocated and spent my time.  It forced me to prioritize things, but more about that in a minute.  Second, fatherhood really pushed me to apply the things I had studied and preached into my own life.  Sure, I had incorporated some of these things before but those situations were far more relaxed and the stakes were higher now.  It wasn’t as easy as you think but in the end here three things I did to create the lifestyle I wanted.

1)      Made cuts and cutbacks.  I treated my life like a company that was losing money.  In my case my currency was time.  How could I create more of it, how could I use it more efficiently, and most importantly who and what should I spend it on.  I see time as treasure so I also looked at it from the perspective of who was I sharing this treasure with.  I literally made a list of my activities and commitments, ranked their importance to my life, and began altering how I did things.  This meant spending less time with some groups, less time flirting with Facebook, and more time devoted to my core objectives of family, work, dissertation (in that particular order).  This was a shift for me as my doctoral often ranked high in my life.  I made peace with becoming Dr. Artale a little later in life.

2)      I advocated for a family friendly work arrangement.  I have been fortunate to have flexible supervisors most of my life.  That being said, when I knew I was going to become I father I found myself needing to advocate.  I advocated not because I had to but because I wanted to.   I wanted to make sure that I would have enough time in my schedule to spend time with my son.  Although my wife and I are far from family, we still want to minimize having strangers/child care centers raise our son as much as possible.   In the end I worked on an arrangement that would allow us to me to be at home part of the week with him.

3)      Made Peace with Life.   As I stated in Point #1, fatherhood caused me to reevaluate and make cuts to unnecessary commitments in my life.  Cuts alone weren’t enough.   I had to make peace with the fact that I would not produce and accomplish many of my goals as quickly and as often as I had previously.  This was a difficult lesson for me at first.  The first few months of parenthood were filled with a lot of family-to-work conflict because I was trying to be Superman and get everything done.  The truth is after a full day of work/taking care of my child, getting stuff done around the house,  spending time with my wife (that doesn’t involve cleaning up after the baby) I have very little time left to work on my speaking career, my dissertation, or other projects.  Heck, some days I struggle to get to the gym!   Eventually I made peace with the slower pace and enjoy my day as much as possible.  I live in the moment more than I ever did and understand most things in life don’t need to be rushed.  It is rare that posting a blog on time is a life and death situation J

 Are my days long?  Oh yea.

Do I get stuff done?  Of course.

Do I stress over not getting every little project and task completed?  Not nearly as much.  There aren’t that many things that require my immediate attention.  I shifted my mentality from always running a sprint to running a marathon.

Vegas was fun and informative but intense.  I roll into the house at 10 p.m.  Everybody is asleep.  I sneak a peek at my wife and son before collapsing into bed.  The next day I wake up at 6 am and for the first time in several days I get to interact with my family.  I run out the door and head to the office at 7:30. Tonight I am giving my keynote “Unleash YourMessage” for some graduate students on campus.  This means I won’t be home until around 8 p.m. 

The presentation goes well and as I am packing up my materials my wife strolls into the auditorium with my son in hand.  What a pleasant surprise!.  Being the good father I am I take him up on stage and just spend some time playing.  May as well get the little guy used to an auditorium early, right? 

It’s been a long week but I am not working the next day.  The minute I walk through the door I stop checking email, writing blogs, listening to the audio from my presentation etc.  It’s time for me to devote to my family.  I will spend the next day doing standard parent stuff like feeding, changing diapers, playing with my son and if I can’t avoid it any longer- house work. 

It seems a bit tedious but every morning I wake up and seek out the greatest thing in the world: my Alessio’s smile. Like my morning cup of coffee- I can’t start my day without it.   And the minute I get it, all the compressed hours, travel routines, late night work sessions, and other sacrifices are well worth to have this privilege.