Two weeks ago I had to travel for work. Unlike many folks I know who travel week in and week out, my job requires only occasional travel. It just so happened on this week my daughters were in a play as part of their summer camp. When I explained to my 7 year old that Daddy would not be able to make the play she said with a matter a fact tone, “Daddy, don’t you think my play is more important?” I had to try and look at this from her perspective, after all to her it was pretty black and white. If you think something is important then you make time to do it otherwise it must not be that important, right? If only life was that simple. I tried to explain to her that yes, Daddy thought her play was super important, but providing for our family was also important. I am not sure she completely understood what I was saying, but as adults we fully understand that life is about tradeoffs. In this case I had to trade in her play for my work obligations.
This was minor in the scheme of trade-offs that life can sometimes throw at us. I recently overheard a conversation in which the woman was explaining that her husband had been unable to find work in their hometown and was forced to take a job 2 hours away. He came home on weekends, but felt rushed and he missed all of his four kid’s activities week in and week out. This had been going on for 2 years. The wife was visibly exhausted from the situation and worried about her husband and kids. That was evidently a rough trade off for that family. Trade-offs are all around us, my wife and I made a trade-off when our kids were born to go from two salaries to one so she could stay at home and care for our girls. With that trade-off our lifestyle had to change, no more running off on a whim for two weeks to Costa Rica just because the surf was flat at home and I was in need of some quality waves.
In my career I have seen people faced with painful trade-offs that no one would want to face; like choosing whether or not to take someone off a ventilator (breathing machine). Choosing tough love when their kids won’t get clean; the tradeoff in these cases has often lead to death. Once we have made a tradeoff the hard part is not over, we often find ourselves rehashing and reviewing the “what if’s”. Those “what if’s” can drive us crazy if we let them. Last night, I was reading The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis to my daughters and there is a part in the story where Polly and Digroy find themselves in a magic world. They enter into a great hall filled with motionless people; it is obvious that these people are locked in time. On a small table in the big room there sits a small bell and hammer, the inscription on the bell reads “Make your choice, adventurous Stranger; Strike the bell and bide the danger. Or wonder, till it drives you mad, What would have followed if you had”. The indication here is that the tradeoff of remaining safe (not ringing the bell) would in the end drive Polly and Digroy mad from wonder. How often do we all get caught up in that angle of temptation?
Last year I made a trade-off that felt right in every way. I worked hard for the opportunity, I did my homework on the organization, the location and made tradeoffs in my personal life that I thought my entire family could adjust to. Over the last 12 months we have grown as a family both through some tough times and through some great experiences. We have come to the realization that the things we traded do not outweigh the things we gained; that in itself calls for another tradeoff. The short of it is we would have never known if the tradeoff we chose a year ago was the right one if we had not tried. If I had never tried perhaps I would have gone mad with wonder as Lewis stated in his book. Now we know and we must make tradeoffs again to get back to the things we hold dear. I was reminded of this the other day when I watched Ric Elias talk about the three things he learned about himself in a 2011 TEDTalk entitled “3 Things I learned while my plane crashed”. As the plane started to descend Ric discovered these three things about himself:
1. From this point forward he would stop wasting time on things and people that do not matter
2. He would start choosing to be happy, rather choose to be right
3. The only thing that mattered in his life was being a great dad
In order for Ric to achieve these things he would have to make different trade-offs. For example he would have to trade being right for being happy; he would have to trade perhaps some career aspirations to be at home more for his kids. Like I said life is full of tradeoffs and nothing is as cut and dry as my 7 year old put it. Professionally, the tradeoff will be seen by some as a step backwards. Those who know me well however will understand that the trade-off is a huge sign of personal growth for me. Personal growth is what secures the foundation of my professional life. By living out my core values I am able to lead others through life’s trade-offs. So in the spirit of Ric Elias here is what what my last big trade-off taught me:
1. Family first.
2. Impact is more important than title.
3. Be present in your life, stop looking for the next best thing and embrace the now.
I would love to hear about a significant trade-off you made in your life and how it impacted you. Please leave a comment, remember our experiences are of the most value when they are used to help others.