HOW TO BE IMPORTANT
“This could be my chance. I mean the REALLY BIG BREAK I’ve waited my whole life for” David told me. A new firm was wooing him hard, promising to double the salary he was making and give him the responsibility and recognition he had been craving in his current firm. Everyone he talked to about the offer was urging him to take it. It certainly looked like an ideal step for his career. The hitch was that the new firm was in a different city and his family didn’t want to move.
David outlined his plan to me. “I’ll commute. Just 3 or 4 days a week. It won’t be a big deal. I mean, I’m already away from home a lot anyway. They’ll hardly notice a difference. I’ll take an early flight on Monday and the late flight on Thursday and work from home on Friday. And, besides, we can FaceTime every night.”
Carla told me, “I want to find work that makes a difference in the world, something that will put my name on the map, my mark on something. It really needs to give me the recognition I’ve been after.” In the same conversation, she put me on hold to take a call from her nanny. Apparently her son had taken a tumble at the playground and she wanted Carla to know she was on her way to the urgent care with him. When I suggested we reschedule our call she declined. “Thank goodness I have good reliable help to outsource this stuff to so I don’t have to worry about things like that!” she told me.
Mark’s wife takes care of their four children. He told me he was pretty sure she’d be mad because though he had promised to be home by 6 so she could get out with her girlfriends on this Friday night, an important meeting had come up. He was hopeful he could smooth it over with her but there was no way he could disappoint this client, “everything depends upon me being there.”
Thomas was distraught when he found out that his father had died. To him, it seemed sudden. He raged, “Why the hell didn’t he tell us the cancer had returned?” His mother replied, “You seemed so busy with work all the time, and you always sounded so relieved when we said you didn’t have to bother to come all that way to see us. We know how important your work is to you.” His anger melted into a pool of intense regret, his father was gone forever.
David, Carla, Mark and Thomas … each of them is an excellent provider, a loving spouse and parent. They care deeply about their work and about meeting the expectations of their employers and clients. It’s natural to want to feel important. The problem was, they didn’t know they already were.
To whom do you want to be important? From where is it most satisfying to receive the praise of importance? Who and what is important to you?
Every one of those clients told me that family is important to them. That they would do anything for their families. In fact, clients often tell me that they are making these sacrifices “for them.”
David tells me that this big break will let him sock away enough money to retire early, providing everything his kids could ever need and that he won’t ever have to worry about money. Do you think that “everything those kids need” will feel clear to them through FaceTime instead of feeling daddy’s hand stroking their hair as they drift off to sleep?
How about Carla? I know from our history together that she fought a long and hard battle with infertility to bring her little boy into this world. Yet she still faces her craving for recognition and her strong desire to make a difference in the world in a way that feels “important”. Of course she wants to be important, we all do! But will this constant seeking leave her son wondering if HE is important to her and whether he matters?
Thomas is struggling as he reflects upon the weight of losing time with his father because his parents didn’t want to bother him or distract him from “his important work”?
There are turns we take on the path to Being Important. Often we are so busy chasing an elusive need to feel that “I am Important” that we miss the warning signs that we are veering onto the path called How To Miss Your Life.
You know the forks in the road where you’re mindlessly following How To Be Important and somehow end up on the road to How To Miss Your Life.
“Check your phone first thing in the morning … even before you say good morning or hug your spouse and children.”
“Cancel plans with your spouse or best friend because “an important” client needs your attention.”
“Convince your child that a good night kiss blown to her by Skype is the same as feeling your arms securely wrapped around her.”
“Have more deal plaques in your office than candid photos taken of you and your family or friends engaged in fun together.”
“Ask your secretary to send an expensive display of flowers to your mom on Mother’s Day or her birthday, after all, what would you talk to each other about anyway?”
“Make sure you are always available for client calls and meetings, even on weekends and evenings, because disappointing them is intolerable. Your son will understand it’s more important than his soccer game, unless it’s a championship where he’ll hopefully win a trophy for you to talk about.”
“When your daughter wants you to push her on the swing, have your phone in one hand checking emails, or distractedly tell her you’re “too busy, maybe later.”
“Whenever someone asks ‘How are you?’ answer with an out of breath ‘I’m SO crazy busy!'”
“Drag your dog by the leash impatiently while you’re texting. Doesn’t he know how inconvenient it is when you have other things you could be doing after your 14 hours at the office?”
“Skip simple daily consistent actions like nightly dinner conversation or tucking your child into bed because you have more important things to do and you can always outsource that role to a nanny.”
“Optimize your drive time to call other people rather than talk to your kids about their day or their dreams or fears.”
“Convince yourself a loving hello or goodbye is highly overrated and have your phone to your ear or your eyes on a screen when your child or spouse leaves or comes home.”
Yep, you’ll be important if you follow this path, but at what cost?
- Missed connections with the people most precious to you
- The certainty of being a stranger to your children and the despair of never really knowing them
- Overwhelming regret and lost opportunities to make memories together