Thursday, January 16, 2014

CranioPro: Commitment

We hope you'll enjoy our new series CranioPro: Igniting a dialog around how Craniofacial Parents manage the challenges of career and family. Look for this series every third Thursday.

I’m delighted and humbled that the CCA Kids Blog has asked me to write periodically on the topic of career and work life for parents of children with craniofacial differences. Let me be clear, I am by no means an expert. I’m not a life coach, career counselor nor do I have any professional designation that would lead you to believe I’m qualified to wax prophetic on this topic. But, what I am is a working dad. A dad and a husband who has worried since the day Nathaniel was born if I could adequately provide for his needs and the needs of the rest of my family. With a little luck, a lot of sleepless nights and tons of hard work I have had a decent bit of success these past ten years. With the love and support of my wife, the tolerance of my children and the help of extended family, I have “ascended the corporate ladder” and am now in a place where I feel perhaps adequately equipped to start this dialog with our extended CCA family.

I will ask for your help in this endeavor. Every month or so I will provide a topic and then share my thoughts, ideas and advice.  Then I will ask that you all take the time to respond with your feelings or additional advice on the topic. DEAL??? 

So here goes. Our maiden voyage together. 

Question: How can I be as committed to my career as I need to be when the challenges faced by craniofacial families are so vast? 

Some facts: I started a new job about 3 months before Nathaniel was born. I had embarked on a second career (working at a Fortune 100 Insurance company) where I was basically starting off at the trainee level, despite being in my early 30s. Living in NYC, with law school loans and a modest salary, let’s just say making ends meet was already challenging. The depths of it all came shortly before Nathaniel’s birth when Magda and I were rebuffed at the checkout line with a wagon full of groceries and a debit card that just wouldn't cooperate. 

The first days of Nathaniel’s journey were scary enough. We all remember the anxiety, the fear and the sadness of knowing our baby’s life would be so filled with challenges. But my fear grew to full blown panic the day I sat with a social worker at NYU and he mapped out for me some of the financial hurdles and obstacles that might present themselves. 

But what does this all mean on the career front? How much work will I miss? How can I leave my wife alone during hospital stays so I am fresh for work? Will my boss understand? Will having a “special kid” hurt my chances for promotion? But the scariest question for me was about commitment: How can I fully commit to a career when I should be thinking about Nathaniel? For some reason I convinced myself that if I was 100% committed to work, I was not being 100% committed to Nathaniel. Have any of you had these same thoughts? 

Well, if others have, GREAT! It means I’m not a total nut job. But here is my advice this month: You owe it to your kids and family to be 100% committed to your career. I don’t care if you’re an hourly blue collar worker like my father or a suit-and-tie professional. We need to find a way to be fully committed at work so that when you are at home you can be equally committed to family. 

But Why? 
It has nothing to do with finances as you might be thinking. 
Bear with me. 
Here are the real reasons why:
  1. Guilt: We all know when we’re doing a good job at work and when we are not.  I remember sitting up at night knowing I didn't give my all at work that day. I was riddled with guilt and fear that folks at work knew it. This guilt only added emotional stress. We have enough to worry about in a craniofacial life, so why add workplace stress that we can control simply by giving our all and being present on the job? Eliminate a stressor and go to work every day prepared to be fully committed.
  2. Resentment: A few folks in my career were promoted ahead of me. Truthfully, I knew they deserved it more, but I quickly made the excuse that it was because of Nathaniel’s medical issues. The truth was the other folks outworked me. But, I comforted myself by convincing myself otherwise and was filled with resentment. How could the world, God… and worst of all Nathaniel do this to me? I shared these feelings with a mentor of mine. To his credit, he called bull$%#@ on me! He told me how amazing he thought it was that Magda and I were so committed to Nathaniel and he asked for a promise. For the next few months he asked me to go to work with the same passion and vigor I had for Nathaniel. I’m not sure how or why I did it, but lo and behold it worked. My reviews got better, promotions came, finances improved but most importantly guilt and resentment faded away.

So here are a few tactical bits of advice:
  1. Get a mentor or coach. You need someone at work who is not your boss, with whom who you can share your challenges and aspirations. Pick someone with different skills than your own. No one needs a clone telling them what to do. Choosing a quality mentor will be a game changer I promise.
  2. Use vacation time wisely. Sounds easy I know but it is important. Whenever possible schedule surgery around slow times at work so being off or away will have the least impact. Sorry, but those mental health days to play golf with the guys might have to wait a few years. Small sacrifices like these are a must for our cranio kids.
  3. Share. What do I mean? Don’t keep your kids challenges secret from folks at work. I sat down with one of my new bosses and shared with her a 24 month calendar of what Nathaniel might require well in advance. I worked with her to create some tools we could use to manage situations that came up. I know, some bosses are not so nice. If possible… GET A NEW BOSS! Seriously, with kids like ours it is so important we work at companies and for people that can be empathetic. Don’t give up on this one.
  4. However, the bottom line is: GET COMMITTED!! Whenever possible find a job you love, working for people you trust and dive in 100%. It is not about the money (although money certainly helps). Once you find that commitment to work, your ability to commit to your family will achieve its full potential.

Stay tuned next month for our next CranioPro post.

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