Written By: Wade Wyant, Red Wagon Advisors
I didn’t get to go to a Fourth of July parade with my family this year. Because there wasn’t one. It’s the first time since 2001 that I did not join my family for a parade on the Fourth.
And there’s a reason I’ve maintained such a streak. Because I learned something in July 2001.
If you can think back that far, you’ll remember that the country seemed to be flying high. We were three months away from 9/11. The economy was going gangbusters. The tech bubble had burst, but we hadn’t really felt the effects.
My business was also going gangbusters at the time. I felt like I had found my niche, and that the team I was part of was getting ready to make a serious impact on the business world.
So, I was excited when I got an invitation to spend the Fourth of July hanging out with some guys from work. We weren’t doing any business. We were just having fun, and it seemed like a great opportunity to bond with the people I’d be sharing these business adventures with.
The two kids we had at the time (we’ve since added two more) were very small and very cute, and in spite of my decision to spend my day elsewhere, my wife decided to go ahead and take them to the parade.
In 2001, digital cameras were not yet the norm, so the photos she took at the parade still had to go through the usual process of 24-hour film development. She took them in right after the parade, and I went with her the following day to pick them up.
It was then that I realized the mistake I had made. As we opened up that yellow envelope full of photo and thumbed through them, I saw my kids experiencing the excitement of that parade. I realized I had missed my chance to not only see it as it happened, but to experience it with them. These photos were wonderful, but all they represented to me was a missed opportunity.
I asked myself: If I’d declined that invitation to hang out with the guys from work, would I ever have seriously regretted it? No. I wouldn’t have. But would I regret missing that parade with my wife and my two small children? I certainly would, and I still do.
That opportunity was lost, but I could at least make sure no others would be. I made a decision right there and then never to miss a Fourth of July parade with my family again. And I never have. From 2002 through 2019, we made every single one together. Eighteen in a row. And if the parade had happened in 2020, it would have been 19.
I often hear people talk about matters like this by asking the following question: What do you want to be remembered for when you die? What they’re getting at is the question of your legacy, and whether you’d want to be remembered for business accomplishments or for loving and taking good care of your family.
I get it. But honestly, that’s not what motivates me.
Making these parades is not about what people remember about me when I’m dead. Who cares? I’ll be dead. People’s good or bad memories of me won’t make any difference to me then.
No, this is about my own experiences in life. It’s about realizing what I lose if I miss these moments. It’s about being able to sit around and tell stories of what happened at the parade, and not just have to hear about it because I decided hanging out with the work guys was more important.
Sure, I understand there’s some value to bonding with work colleagues. There are times when it makes sense to invest your time in doing that. But I can’t emphasize this enough: Don’t do it at the expenses of those special moments with your family.
If you ever find yourself in a situation in which your wife is getting ready to take the kids to something you could and should also be going to – and it’s because you chose something work-related – think long and hard about that decision.
Whatever career benefit you think you’re going to get from missing the family event, is it really worth what you’ll be giving up? When you thumb through the photos with your wife later on, and she laments that you weren’t there, will you feel confident then that you made the right call?
Your work buddies will be fine without you. You will have other opportunities to get together with them. Those special moments with your kids come and go, and they don’t come back.
This may not sound like career coaching, but it is. Because the career you pursue at the expense of family is no career worth having.