Chasing Purpose - What I'm learning through fatherhood
"Who am I to tell him he can do anything if I cannot lead by example?"
These are words I spoke to my wife after putting our son to bed after his third birthday. At the time I had been working in talent
enablement and development within the cyber security industry, fulfilling a
dream of mine as well as feeling like I was making the world a better place.
"Daddy helps fight bad guys!" I would tell my son. Sure, it was a
stretch, but to me it meant something.
My parents were the type to take a job and stick it out, regardless of growth or happiness. There's no fault in this, but simply an old operating system as I see it. They never seemed to question, or at least openly
with me, their work or purpose in it. Looking back I can't help but see hamsters on a wheel.
Contrary to this, I was raised to question and be curious. My mother would always explain the meaning behind things as best she could, and my father always encouraged my curiosity. These are two traits that serve me well today, ones I want to continue to carry though to full fruition within my own son.
Two years later and still in the same line of work, I was then at another hyper-growth start up, grinding away and chasing the elusive public offering of the shares I helped grow in value. These jobs served me well. They put bread on my family’s table, allowed me to send my son to the
best private care, and to finally afford a home of our own. They allowed me to let my wife quit her job and find purpose elsewhere. For all intent and purpose my life was pretty grand. Almost perfect.
So, why am I so unhappy? Why do I not feel fulfilled? Why do
I constantly look outside my office window feeling trapped?
The last two years I struggled with these feelings. I found so much purpose in my family, building men’s groups with friends who have become family, and creating beautiful art with my hobby of woodworking. Many parts of my life were running on all cylinders, and yet I would "punch into work" and feel unfulfilled and unmotivated. This was nothing new. I had been battling with versions of this all my life. Always feeling destined for more.
I had become a father and led men through their own emotional work and here I was, stuck just the same as those who come to me for this very
advice. Was I not taking my own? If so, why? What was holding me back?
For ten years I took the obligatory paid time off. Two weeks here, a four day weekend there, but like so many of you, I was never fully unplugged. Until one day I started to feel courageous. We had saved up enough
that I started to dream about taking time off, trying my own hand at consulting full-time, or even opening a woodworking shop. But how will we make our mortgage? What about insurance? How long could I make it if I'm not successful right away? How do we know when to buckle down or throw in the towel?
What if I fail? What if I fail.
There it was, as clear as day. Fear. I was afraid. My fear had finally shown itself in full light of the day. It had walked up to me like
a bully, stood eye to eye with me and didn't flinch. My years of therapy,
coaching, and fatherhood all kicked in. Training myself for this moment, I
didn't flinch either. Sure I was a panicked inside, but I knew how important this moment was. If I didn't conquer my fear, here and now it, would continue to rule me. Continue to make decisions for me, and inevitably teach my son those same lessons. No, it was time to put all I had learned to good use.
I needed to take a minute to collect myself. For ten years I had been moving one career to the next. Climbing a ladder. My last two career
moves I didn't even take time off in-between. Friday I was at one job and
I write this today from an airplane window at dusk, needed to find something that touched my soul, and if it meant being patient until the right one came to me, then so be it. Most of all, I needed to show my son that chasing something of substance was worth it. That taking a chance was better than never trying at all.
I write this today from an airplane window at dusk, overlooking what our pilot explains is Memphis, with my 5 year old son sitting next to me, my wife across the aisle. My son has his favorite show on and snacks that the flight attendant brought special just for him. He's rocking his
head back and forth in happiness as he munches away. What more could he want right now.
I am on week three since leaving my job and we're flying home
from a family trip. Week one consisted of my brother visiting for a week. We built cabinets and a new fence. We worked hard got sweaty in the garage, and never once did I need to rush away for another meeting or to reply to an email. This last week was a trip to New York to cheer on my wife as she checked the New York City Marathon off of her bucket list. While she raced I took my son to the Museum of Natural History where we learned so much and explored together. All day my son was at my side, just the two of us with nothing but an app tracking my wife's progress and our presence and awe in each moment.
True time off is rare. Being able to unplug fully, and connect with life again is magical. We went upstate where my wife was raised to see the fall colors, family, and relax on 120 acres of woods, waterfalls, and
streams right outside our cabin door. I showed my son how to spot tree frogs and chipmunks in the brush. We followed animal tracks and made walking sticks. We collected leaves and books and most importantly, memories.
This time is precious, and until I actually took this time, hadn't fully realized just how distracting life can be. Especially in the time of Covid. Everything is blurred together with lost meaning.
Taking time off. Truly disconnecting. Without worrying about the deadlines that slip while you're away, or the work you come back to, is precious. The gift I get today is one we don't often have an opportunity to experience. Most of us don't even think about its power or what it could mean. I surely didn't.
My advice to you is to find your purpose and reconnect to it. Ground in the present and when given an opportunity to unplug, do it. Truly do
it. Those meetings will be there, the deadlines and all the stress to come
along with it. You have a choice to set it aside. To turn off your
notifications, and really experience life. My relationship with my son will
forever be stronger because of the choice I made to rest and recharge. And maybe, just maybe, that will make all the difference.
Finding purpose in my work and career starts with reconnecting with my own life and what that purpose fulfills. 14 years into my career and the skills I have amassed need to be pointed towards something that makes the world better. I can now look forward to that journey when the time is
But, I’ll save that part for a little later. Right after I continue to be unplugged and present for a while.