“He who has no mission in life is the poorest of all.” — Albert Schweitzer
The legendary inventor, Thomas Edison, had just come through a period of exceptionally hard work and even longer hours than normal. At dinner his wife said, “You’ve been working too hard with no breaks. You need a vacation.” “But where would I go?” he asked her. “Think about where you’d rather be than any other place on earth,” she replied. Edison thought for a few moments then said, “All right, I’ll go tomorrow morning.” The next day he was back to work in his laboratory.
When Geoff came home late from work again, his eight-year-old daughter Tiffany was waiting for him at the door. As he walked into the kitchen, Tiffany asked, “How much do you make an hour, daddy?” Tired and stressed out, Geoff was angry with the question. He replied, “That’s none of your business!” “Please daddy, tell me how much do you make an hour?” All right,” his father snapped, “I make $20 an hour.” Tiffany then asked, “Daddy, can I borrow $10?” “Forget it,” Geoff barked as he stormed out of the room. Later that evening, Geoff was feeling badly about the way he had treated Tiffany. So he went up to his daughter’s room where he found a teary eyed Tiffany still wide-awake. Pulling a ten-dollar bill from his pocket Geoff sat on the side of her bed and tenderly gave it to her. Tiffany smiled weakly and took a handful of crumbled bills and coins from the drawer in her nightstand. As she handed it all to Geoff she said excitedly, “Thanks, now I have $20! Can I buy an hour of your time tomorrow daddy?”
Geoff and Thomas Edison’s stories are about purpose. Edison clearly found purpose in his work. It wasn’t work, it was his life calling. Geoff may have found the same fulfillment from his work. It’s tempting to make judgments about both Edison and Geoff based on our own values. That’s a mistake. Although we may not agree with the choices others make, we need to respect their right to choose their preferred future according to their own set of core values and unique purpose. The real danger comes from not doing things on purpose. If we’re not leading a purposeful life, it’s easy to drift aimlessly and become trapped in our own misery-series. People who want very little from life and enjoy what they have can be wealthier than those who have a lot, but always want much more. And some people who just let life happen to them end up enriched and fulfilled. But drifting to a rich and full life is the exception. The most fulfilled lives are generally the most purposeful lives.
The work/family balance is one of the toughest that most leaders face. You may have guessed by now that I have a strong bias in favor of family values and purposeful parenting for people who’ve chosen to have children. Aside from powerful entrepreneurs or executives that build strong and lasting organizations, the legacy of our parenting is one of the key ways we can make a difference or mess up a lot of lives. The impact of our parental leadership lasts for generations touching dozens, if not hundreds, of lives still to come. That’s why I agree with Martin Baxbaum, “You can use most any measure when you’re speaking of success. You can measure it in fancy home, expensive car or dress. But the measure of your real success is one you cannot spend — It’s the way your child describes you when talking to a friend.” For parents, I believe that a key measurement of our wealth is the love and respect of our children.