Things I Learned in 2016


Things I Learned in 2016

  1. Loving, Meaningful Relationships with Family & Friends Provide the Renewal and Perspective Necessary to Do Our Best Work

An unexpected call from Dad on the way home from the office at 8:43pm on a Tuesday night provided 32 minutes of banal sports and politics chatter and concluded with a discussion on managerial styles that we had both experienced (mine recent, his decades ago) as frustrated subordinates. We strategized about the Seahawks offensive line’s road to glory (hitherto it had been mostly agony) and pondered if the very Republic would survive in the wake of several unprecedented actions by the President-Elect.  Our collective laughter, agreement, and emotional union provided the usual psychological escape that always functioned as a sort of cathartic, emotional release for the both of us.  It was a reminder of why I spent my days doing what I did and the family that was at home waiting for me – even if I didn’t. For Dad and me, such late evening conversations were our way of lightening, contextualizing and connecting. 

It is precisely these conversations that allow us to remove ourselves from the seemingly important, pressure-cooker workdays replete with endless meetings and taxing client interactions.

Far too often over the last few years, I would go days on end with only a quick meal and brief conversation with my fiancé’/wife at the end of the workday.  Deeply immersed in my work and other commitments, I had sparse time for human connection outside of those required by my professional, academic and philanthropic responsibilities.  While it became easy to justify this lack of social engagement as a “necessary evil” of a demanding schedule, I found myself increasingly glum and cynical in my daily interactions with others.  This was not the usual, glass half full optimist that I had been for the previous 30+ years of life.

After a bad night of sleep, the cantankerous habits of difficult clients began to subtly permeate my interactions with co-workers. The usual kindness that I showed to all whom I came in contact with morphed into morsels of arrogance when dealing with those in lesser positions. I became overly concerned with organizational hierarchies and was constantly gauging my relative trajectory to those around me.  Who was this shrill, tired, and disconsolate individual?

It wasn’t until I received a text message from my niece in Iowa one afternoon that the power of loved ones struck me like an uppercut to the jaw. This random text message, while short and rather insignificant, activated my Precuneus – a part of the brain responsible for connecting consciousness and satisfaction that is found within the medial parietal lobe (for more on the neurological science, see this study in the journal Nature).  Our conversation stirred in me a perspective of the tactical importance (or unimportance) of whatever I was doing that day.  My niece made me laugh, smile and feel proud.  These emotions provided the necessary counterbalance to the heaviness of relentless stress, deadlines, and victory at all costs.  I put down the phone that afternoon with an improved contextual understanding of the work that I was doing and what, and exactly whom, really mattered.

Now this isn’t to say that the work that we do is not important. Quite to the contrary, it is exceptionally important and many of us have dedicated countless time and treasure to the pursuit of a successful career in our chosen industry. But it is to say that the human connection and feelings of deep love and contentment that come from our experiences with family or friends are mediating, framework establishing mechanisms that help us work more effectively.  They balance professional anxiety with humanity.  Weariness with joy.  Blind pursuit of success with a balanced and enduring view of why we have chosen the paths that we have.

After this sudden realization, I immediately began scheduling more deliberate interactions with family and friends. Mid-week dinners at Federal Hill Park or a local restaurant with my wife became an avenue to laugh and seek counsel.  She was always there with a sarcastic jab at my endless discussion of politics or advice about how to handle an issue with a colleague.  A Sunday run with a friend in the neighborhood was 4 miles worth of restaurant summaries, sport arguments and business war stories.  Friday evening discussions on the drive home from work with my mother became a satisfying show of interest and curiosity about each other’s hectic lives. Connectedness to others was helping me to better connect with my work.

In 2016, I also began to connect with senior executives and others that I looked up into my industry. My objective was to have lunch with a different leader each month to seek their guidance and perspective on success and fulfillment.  These engagements varied in the quality of the wisdom gleaned.  However, I always came away with a tidbit that would help me become a more successful professional, community member and husband.

As I close 2016, I can say with confidence that deep and deliberate engagement with family and friends matters immensely. My focus is sharper, my mental endurance stronger, my creativity most animated when I prioritize time with loved ones.  And while most of this evidence is anecdotal – I am certain there is a body of scientific study that underpins this (my Precuneus would be the first to raise its hand!)

Our children bring delight and wonder, our father’s deliver wisdom, our mothers show an indelible concern for our well being, and our brother’s/sister’s are always there with a sarcastic reminder that we are not as self-important as we think.

In 2017, I encourage you to seek avenues to connect. Whether you work on Wall Street or Main Street, office or factory floor – our work and our welfare are enhanced when we are regularly engaging in meaningful interactions with loved ones.