Max Schireson resigned as CEO of Internet database MongoDB last month so he could have more time for…work. Specifically, more time for his work as a parent. His resignation, posted on his blog and titled “Why I am leaving the best job I ever had,” went viral.
“What I did was ordinary,” Schireson said in an interview, “but my position as CEO gave the decision a notoriety I didn’t expect.”
The struggle for what’s often called “life-work balance” is nothing new, of course. But Schireson’s decision, reported in the Wall Street Journal last Wednesday, is intriguing to us because he didn’t talk about it in terms of work versus “life.” In his WSJ interview, he seemed to describe his decision as an adjustment to his mix of work activities, made to match current priorities. Previously, the work of growing the company from 20 to 400 people was an appropriate use of his time, he said, even though it meant working “crazy full time.” However, as the company matured, and as his family grew, he realized that working less at the company and more in parenting was a better allocation of his overall work time. “Helping with homework, reading to my children, being there for bedtime every night…that’s what this decision has enabled me to do,” Schireson said.
In this reckoning, time with kids is real work with a serious purpose.
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.
Recognizing 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.