Made for more

Made for more September 25, 2014

In August of 2014, Max Scheirson, CEO of MongoDB, quit his job. Not in itself unusual, but perhaps unusual for the reasons why, as he wrote in “Why I am leaving the best job I ever had:”

Earlier this summer, Matt Lauer asked Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, whether she could balance the demands of being a mom and being a CEO. The Atlantic asked similar questions of PepsiCo’s female CEO Indra Nooyi. As a male CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive and what type of music I like, but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO…..

* I have 3 wonderful kids at home, aged 14, 12 and 9, and I love spending time with them: skiing, cooking, playing backgammon, swimming, watching movies or Warriors or Giants games, talking, whatever.

* I am on pace to fly 300,000 miles this year, all the normal CEOfatherhood-work-family2 travel plus commuting between Palo Alto and New York every 2-3 weeks. During that travel, I have missed a lot of family fun, perhaps more importantly, I was not with my kids when our puppy was hit by a car or when my son had (minor and successful, and of course unexpected) emergency surgery.

* I have an amazing wife who also has an important career; she
is a doctor and professor at Stanford where, in addition to her clinical duties, she runs their training pr
ogram for high risk obstetricians and conducts research on on prematurity, surgical techniques, and other topics. She is a fantastic mom, brilliant, beautiful, and infinitely patient with me. I love her, I am forever in her debt for finding a way to keep the family working despite my crazy travel. I should not continue abusing that patience.

Friends and colleagues often ask my wife how she balances her job and motherhood. Somehow, the same people don’t ask me.  A few months ago, I decided the only way to balance was by stepping back from my job.

Scheirson’s post went viral, and he was eventually interviewed by the Wall Street Journal on the topic in an article called “Quit a Job to Spend More Time With the Family? You Bet:”

Last month, Max Schireson announced he would give up his job running a billion-dollar startup to spend more time with his family. And he couldn’t be happier about it.

Mr. Schireson’s departure from the helm of Internet database company MongoDB Inc., revealed in a blog post that quickly went viral, became a catalyst for a discussion that rarely takes place at the highest corporate levels: the challenges faced by fathers as they attempt to balance work and family.

The father of three is now vice chairman of the company, which he has said will entail a “normal full time” schedule as opposed to a “crazy full time” one. His wife is a doctor and professor at Stanford University.

Two weeks into his new role, Mr. Schireson talked to The Wall Street Journal about his decision and the many challenges faced by working fathers…

WSJ: In my experience, there are many dads who have made it two-thirds of the way up the corporate ladder and then feel stuck and unsatisfied that their careers are getting in the way of their desire to be involved fathers. What advice do you have for these dads who may be at similar crossroads in their lives?

Mr. Schireson: When you are climbing the ladder it can feel that reaching that next rung and that next rung is always critically important and you must be hyper-focused on attaining it.

However, sometimes the best decision is to stay one rung below, and think through the trade-off between the next rung and what your family life could be if you stay where you are for a while. There will absolutely be a stigma of not being ambitious or dedicated enough to one’s company and career. We need to really think about how we feel about that perception and the trade-offs involved—and I don’t think it is a free decision, there is a trade-off involved.

As a result of my choice, I may have fewer career options going forwar
d, but I will still have really good options. As I said before, this decision was easier for me considering the good fortune I’ve had in my career than it may be for most other working dads.

On our own channel, Will Messenger reflected on Schierson’s decision at Theology of Work Project:

Schireson didn’t say how he developed his perspective, but a view like his could easily be drawn from scripture. In biblical times, households were where the vast majority of work was done, including growing crops, weaving cloth, making pottery and furniture, and conducting business. Parenting was an integral part of the household’s work and primary to recruit and train new workers. Passages such as Proverbs 31:10-31 depict executives—in this passage an astute business woman—moving seamlessly from negotiating deals, to running to operations, to parenting, to providing financial security in their enterprises. Most people today don’t work in family businesses, but family and paid work are still simply aspects of our overall suite of work.

112098447_b1fe2bdec4_zRecognizing that spending more time parenting is a re-allocation of work time, rather than working less, is as significant as it is unusual. If parenting is a leisure, or non-work activity, then a decision exchanging family-time with paid work pits career against family, commitment against laziness, achievement against triviality. In those terms, every such decision becomes lose-lose. Resentment by family, colleagues or self is a foregone conclusion. But if parents recognize that the results of work include not only products, services and business returns, but also a new generation of humanity, then reallocating work time is basic strategic planning, a routine activity that high-performing workers do on a daily basis.

As did Joseph Sunde on Oikonomia:

We can all learn from Schireson’s sacrificial act, men and women alike. But for men in particular, his example offers a healthy challenge to a mindset that I fear has been ingrained for far too long.

Perhaps it’s because men aren’t pressed with the same physical demands as women in those early stages. But for whatever reason, we seem particularly adept at finding ways to justify our work at the office, farm, or factory that, in one way or another, diminish the hard and necessary work of fathering.

This isn’t to say that doing so necessarily makes us bad or neglectful fathers. But by assuming such a position and distorting our attitudes and imaginations when it comes work in general and work in the home, we only make it harder for us to integrate these worlds in the ways that we ought. And if we do get it wrong, failure here or there is bound to impact our service as a whole, to our families, churches, communities, and the economy as a whole.

What do you think? Join the conversation here and elsewhere on the channel!!!!


Images: TOW Project, Oikonomia, and Flickr.


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