An old saying goes: on their death bed, no one ever turns to their family and says “I wish I had spent more time at work.”
I’m not waiting that long. In my life, two experiences combined, and I’m watching them play out.
First: last May, my father became suddenly ill and, within two weeks, he passed away. I spoke at his memorial service.
Second: just before my father became ill, I was rereading the Seven Habits book by Covey (for the third time).
One thing that Covey said in his book: What will your family and friends say about you at your funeral?
Just after reading that book, I had the opportunity to practice it… I looked back at my father’s life and spoke at his funeral. I spoke of a loving father, a wonderful teacher, and a man who lived until the day he died. In the last year of his life, he traveled to London, Paris, New Delhi, and Tokyo. He climbed the stairs at the Notre Dame cathedral. He lit fireworks with his brother and nieces and their children at Diwali. He painted paintings and had art shows and hosted lively parties where lively people would come dance in the great dancing room he had converted from a two-car garage, just as he had done ever since I was a boy.
I told this to his friends. They already knew it. I said it anyway. I needed to.
Then we flew home, and things started to change. I encouraged my wife to finally jump in, quit the job she wasn’t enjoying, and go back to college for that degree she’d always wanted. (She made the Dean’s list in her first full quarter back in college in over a decade. I’m so proud of her). I stopped spending 60 hours a week at work. I started asking myself “how much less can I do at work” and “how many more minutes can I spend today with my family.” When someone at work would offer up a ‘highly visible’ assignment that was outside my normal duties, I would think twice before taking it.
A few years ago, I pulled back from the traveling that consultants do. I didn’t enjoy it. This was the next step: truly trying to find a balance between work and life. I give my all to my employer during the day, and I work hard, but when the day is over, I come home. I spend time with my kids… face time. We talk. I hug. I listen.
If I compare the last week of January 2006 to the last week of January 2007… just pull out that one week from each year and compare them, I can see a change. I’ve spent more time with each child this year. I’ve spent a LOT more time with my wife this year. I’ve spent as much productive time at work… but the unproductive time is disappearing. I’m squeezing it out. The overtime caused by never saying “no” is drying up as well.
My priorities have clearly shifted.
What I want others to say at my funeral: good father, good husband, good friend, good human being. The direction I was going wasn’t going to get me there. This change, I think, is one for the better.
Last year, in this week, my greatest achievement was to make architectural diagrams.
This year, in this week, it’s a three-way toss up: I supported my wife in her studies, took my daughter horseback riding, and took a fencing lesson with my sons. Oh, yeah, I also worked on architectural diagrams.
What’s your biggest achievement this week? When all your weeks are done, and your son or daughter stands in front of your friends and speaks about your life, what words will be spoken? The memories they share then are the memories you build today.
To my father: thank you. I have thousands of memories of sunsets, swimming, mountain trails, parks, movies, trips, years of breakfast with three cups of fruit juices, fireworks, loud dancing music, meditation, more fireworks, roses, paintings, sculptures, bowls of fruits and nuts, and so much more. You gave me more than the world. You gave me you.
Now it’s my turn.