A few months back I was at Panera for lunch. I was sitting near two guys having a conversation among co-workers. While one did not supervise the other, it was clear he was a mentor or in a position to influence the career of the other. The senior guy was around 30, the other was closer to 25.
There was the typical work talk about projects and deadlines but then it turned more toward a discussion about career advancement. With the older guy telling the younger that they were watching to see if he (or some other guy in the office) would be ready for career advancement first.
The candid nature of the conversation stood out to me. I admire candor, yet it is not often you hear a senior person tell a colleague that they are being compared to another colleague to see who will be ready to advance first. Frankly, I see nothing wrong with that, as it amounts to “laying one’s cards on the table.”
The younger guy did not seem to mind that he was being pitted against another colleague for career advancement. He spoke of the dedication he had to the position, and specifically about the effort he put into his work to ensure accuracy in his projects. He spoke of the extended travel that he was taking on and his desire to get ahead.
The senior guy then spoke about his own experience with travel, at an earlier time in his career. He shared that he was gone for 30-60 days at a time for business for a couple years of his career and that, “if you do it when your kids are young they aren’t impacted by it.” The younger guy stated that he was hoping that would be the case with his own young kids.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where I call bullshit. On the senior guy for rationalizing his absence was uneventful to his children, and to the younger guy for appearing to buy into the fallacy.
My hot button of “kids not being impacted” has a very personal side.
Some years back I was drawn into the national spotlight for being a single custodial father of five kids when the 2000 census showed more dads raising kids alone–something I had been doing for nine years at that point. Part of that story involved my walking away from a security position that put me too far away from my kids and was definitely “impacting” their lives.
I have no regrets. Yes, it set my career back–and changed its trajectory for a short time. Long ago, I recovered on the career front. We all have career choices to make. Yet, as a parent, the determining factors surrounding those career choices involve a new dimension.
My advice to the younger guy at Panera? “Don’t pull the wool over your own eyes to rationalize the impact you have on your child–for it is truly immeasurable.”
And to the senior guy? Same advice–just wish I could have given it to him years earlier.