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Put Your Family Last

After many valuable lessons, I now put my family last. And, they benefit from it.

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Photo by Jerry Zhang, Unsplash.
Photo by Jerry Zhang, Unsplash.

One time when I wrote a Facebook post about how I had gotten it all wrong by putting my family first, one guy interacted with the post only by putting one of those little angry-faced emoticons. I guess I’m in the business of making new friends. I stand by my position. I put my family first for many years. Now I don’t. They know that, too.

It might sound awful to say put your family last, but I’d rather live this way and have them prosper than to follow the norms of society and have them still experience the chaos they once witnessed. Let me explain.

We Were Set For Life

When my wife, Angie, and I began dating in 1999, she asked me about my job and education. When I told her I had a Bachelor’s degree in Management, she said, “you’ll never be without a job. You’ll always be set.” I still remember her response, and those words anchored into my mind for the next 17 years. In some ways, remembering her response caused me to make some pretty poor decisions. It’s not her fault at all. When I made career decisions from that point forward, I put her needs first. Being “set for life” was what made me valuable as a man, boyfriend, husband, and eventually a father. She had no idea how powerfully her words had affected me.

From 1999 until 2012, things came really easily for me in my career and in our ability to create income and accumulate wealth. In 2002, our family was relocated for a corporate role from Baltimore, Maryland, to Portland, Oregon. I was promoted a few times and changed employers over 10 years and ascended to executive leadership. In 2012 Angie told me that she wanted to move from our home in Oregon before our girls entered middle school. She wanted a climate with 4 seasons, and Portland, although beautiful, had only two: rainy and 55 for 8 months, and sunny and 80 for 4.

We Embarked On A Job Search

We were officially on the market and available for hire. I was connected with a lot of executive recruiters and I was being called and presented opportunities around the country. When we decided to move, it didn’t take long before opportunities found us. I had already interviewed in New Hampshire, Chicago, and California when a recruiter called and asked me if I’d consider moving to St. Louis. He said that he was looking to fill an operations leadership position in a $350 million energy company, with the promise of advancement in two or three years.

A Lucrative Opportunity, A Change In Scenery

I flew to Chicago, and then to St. Louis for interviews. When they showed me the compensation and benefits package, my jaw almost hit the floor. I toured the site, and absolutely hated it. It was an energy company, very industrial in nature. The environment was unfamiliar and uninteresting to me. But that compensation package would open up doors for my family.

A few weeks later, the company flew all four of us to St. Louis for four days and no obligation, put us in the President’s suite in the Grand Renaissance downtown, gave us no spending budget, and invited us to tour the city and area to see if the family would be open to relocate. They wanted me badly, and now it was up to us. The entire time Angie knew that the position wasn’t a fit, but we decided that it would be best for the family. We’d make it work because the price tag was more than right. I accepted the position. I wasn’t as thrilled, but my family would benefit from a change in scenery and from the income and benefits. I’d figure it all out after the move.

My Family Was in Chaos

I lasted 20 months in that role. In no way, shape, or form was I a good fit for that position. Meanwhile, Angie wanted to move to start over, but her health, our relationship, and the happiness of our family had deteriorated to a breaking point. I put my family first, and I almost lost it all in 20 months. While I was hunting for a new job, Angie and I partied it up, using the safety net of my five-month severance. We hit happy hours every day and often picked our kids up from the bus stop intoxicated. I continued to neglect myself in every way possible.

Money Was All That Mattered

Right before my severance ran out, I was offered another executive position. This one was for a general manager of a $6 million manufacturing business. This time, the compensation was not as lucrative, but it would preserve my family’s way of life. Everything worked out to keep the money flowing, but over the next 15 months, my family continued to spiral.

Angie and I were both upside down in chemical addictions, and my kids were witnessing chaos on a daily basis. But, hey, at least the money was still flowing! I was a 300-pound suicidal alcoholic, but money was all that mattered at the time. Then I was fired from that position in March of 2016.

Lessons Learned

I had gone from a substantial income, in a position I loved and was equipped for in Portland, Oregon, to fired twice in just a few years. I had put what I thought were my family’s needs first, and we ended up needing to rebuild everything from the ashes.

I learned valuable lessons from the decisions we made and the cycles and patterns we endured. First and foremost, I never prioritized myself. I neglected my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, and when considering important choices, I never considered what I wanted or what would benefit me. I only considered the impact of those decisions on my family and their well-being.

A Better Way to Benefit My Family

When determining how to create income, I never considered what was aligned for me. I put my own desires, skills, and talents behind the needs and desires of my family. Most importantly, I said yes to jobs strictly for the compensation, benefits, and future opportunities, not because of the content of the work and position or how I would impact society. I was feeding an insatiable appetite for money, wealth, and materials at the expense of purpose, happiness, and job fulfillment.

Finally, I learned that in order to give my family what they really desired, I needed to show up powerfully for myself, serve and create impact in a way that brought satisfaction and joy to my life. It was only then that could I show up and lead my family. I learned that if I was personally depleted in my health and how I showed up, and if I had just a transactional relationship within my career choices, saying yes just because of compensation and benefits, then my family would get much less of me than they deserved. If I didn’t show up for myself and my society and career, then it was impossible to fully show up for my family. By putting myself first, I got better, Angie got better, and in the process, we provided an example – as leaders – for our family to do the same. We taught them to lead, not just to survive.

I Give Them The Best of Me

These days, I wake up early and take care of my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual states. I’ve built an executive coaching business that doesn’t offer them the supposed security and consistency that a corporate job offers, but fits perfectly with my desires, purpose, values, and vision. My family sees that creating income does not require sacrifice or doing what you don’t want to do. Most importantly, by putting myself first, I show up fully present, powerful, purposeful, and in a position to be the husband, father, and leader they deserve – never depleted, and never less than I desire to be in the world. When I put them first, they got a shrunken version of me. By putting myself first, they get the very best of me.

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