I’m looking forward to the time when my son will be old enough (he is only two years old) to get a little closer to what I do for work. I want him to see what it is that I do while we are not together and for him to appreciate that it is worthwhile.
While I was growing up, I had insight into my parents’ work pretty much every day. Since I was very young, my mother owned and operated her own business, and, eventually, my dad joined her. She was ahead of her time, with her own in-workplace daycare center, except in our case it was a side office that was converted into a sort of playroom and study hall for me and my three younger siblings. I was intimately familiar with what my parents did for a living, and I am convinced that this exposure from a very early age has been a massive influence in my own career and life choices.
My mother had the experience and skills for many jobs that would have yielded a good income. But she specifically wanted the autonomy and challenge of owning and growing her own business. She began her business in a small, remote town in northern Canada, where expenses were very high and the market was very small. Earning enough to grow the business and cover our family’s expenses was no small challenge! She started with a bookkeeping venture and quickly moved to operating from her own office downtown. She eventually purchased a building on the main street to house the kaleidoscope of business ventures that my parents pursued over the years including business services, income-tax preparation, office-space rental, a bed & breakfast, expediting services, film development, photography, the motor vehicles licensing office, a catalog outlet, a gas station, and a bookstore. Many of these businesses overlapped with each other at various times, and I’m sure I’m missing at least a few ventures.
My parents were flat-out busy with work, and at the same time they invested heavily in their kids, making sure we were getting the education and opportunities we would need in order to pursue our own life ambitions. It wasn’t easy, but I saw first-hand what was possible if you wanted to be the architect of your own career and family life. I also came to appreciate how important partnership is both at home and at work.
3 major life lessons
As I reflect on this influence, I realize that I learned several things. First, it is very important to your happiness to pursue personal goals in addition to serving the interests of others. Second, rewarding outcomes require grit, creativity, and an appetite for trying new things. Third, the notion that you have to choose between either a career or a family is a false choice: you’re able to have what you want in life, if you’re willing to make the accommodations to make it happen.
Entrepreneurship and business ownership while raising a family was not new to my mother, either. As it turns out, I’m a descendant of a peculiarly long line of women who balanced family life against a backdrop of career pursuits. My grandmother was the first woman to graduate from her university with a degree in chemical engineering. After working for the Canadian government in the Mines Branch, she married and worked for years running the family farming business and teaching. My great-grandmother owned and operated a successful secretarial school that produced most of the secretaries in their city at the time. My mother tells me that even my great-great grandmother ran a general store. As I scale the generations of my family tree, it’s not hard to imagine that I would, in turn, invest heavily in both my career and my family.
While I attended university to earn my degree in chemical engineering, I had the amazing fortune to be able to live with my grandmother (yes, the chemical engineer one!) who owned a home within a mile of campus. We spent countless evenings swapping stories about what classes were like for her, compared with how they were for me so many years later. In many ways, it made me appreciate how far society has come, and in others it has reminded me how much further we have yet to go with having more women pursue science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degrees.
Finding work they want to do
Now that I have a son and stepchildren, I am reminded of how influential the legacy of my family tree has been on my own life. I must carry on the legacy with my own children. I want them to view themselves as architects of their lives as well, pursuing careers and family lives not out of a sense of what they “should” do but out of a sense of what they want to do. To that end, I speak openly and frequently about my career’s benefits as well as the challenges that I face day to day.
I want my kids to have a realistic appreciation for the kind of life they can create for themselves. They need to understand that they cannot simply show up and receive the benefits of a career, especially if they hope that their vocation will be a source of happiness and fulfillment for them. While I want them to understand the value of hard work and discipline, I also want them to see the discipline that life balance requires. If I have passed the legacy on correctly, my children will want to create lives for themselves that are rich with challenges, opportunities, and growth, while enjoying the most important things in life—their families and loved ones.
I want my son to understand that when I get on a plane to go see my clients and work with my teams, it’s because I want to build deeper relationships that go beyond the deliverables. I want the people I work with to understand just how invested I am in them, because I am invested in my role as a consultant. And when I get on the plane to come home again, it’s because I want to build deeper relationships with our family that go beyond household chores, homework, and weekend sports practices, because I am also deeply invested in my role as a wife and mother.
Whether you have children, or whether you find yourself chatting with a younger friend, relative, or mentee…help them understand the whole picture of what you do with your life. Share with them your whole you, so they can learn to be their whole selves too.
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