“The road may look a bit funny, but there is always a way”, with James Sudakow and Dr. Ely Weinschneider

“There is always a way.” This came from my dad, who used to always tell me and my sister that if we wanted something, there was always a way. Sometimes, you just have to work harder to figure out what that way is. That quote has been relevant for me my entire life — from when I […]

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“There is always a way.” This came from my dad, who used to always tell me and my sister that if we wanted something, there was always a way. Sometimes, you just have to work harder to figure out what that way is. That quote has been relevant for me my entire life — from when I converted myself from classical violinist to an electric rock violinist to starting my own business to writing books. And I frequently think about my dad when I’m doing all of these things. I try to impart these message to the kids we are raising — you can always get there. The road may look a bit funny, but there is always a way.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview James Sudakow. James is a creative-thinking business leader and irreverent corporate author offering strategies, insights and a unique perspective on navigating the corporate gauntlet.

He is the author of the book, Out of The Blur: A Delirious Dad’s Search for the Holy Grail of Work-Life Balance. (Purple Squirrel Media, Sept. 1, 2018) which tells his story of building and running a small business while raising a family with illustrations by Todd Kale. Previously, he wrote Picking the Low-Hanging Fruit… and Other Stupid Stuff We Say in the Corporate World (Purple Squirrel Media, 2016), a humorous corporate glossary, also with illustrations by Kale. Picking the Low-Hanging Fruit sheds an irreverent light on weird business buzzword, resonating with corporate workers no matter the industry.

Picking the Low-Hanging Fruit and Sudakow’s business insights have been featured in The Chicago Tribune, Forbes.com, Fast Company Online, Mic., The Business Journals, LifeHacker, Bustle, SiriusXM, Psychology Today and more. Sudakow is also a contributing columnist to Inc.com.

Sudakow serves as the principal of CH Consulting, Inc., a boutique management and organizational effectiveness consulting practice he founded in 2010. He specializes in helping companies manage organizational transformation, create talent management strategies and programs that maximize employee capabilities and improve business performance.

Before starting his own consultancy, Sudakow held leadership roles in several global multibillion-dollar organizations across the technology and health care industries. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California and his master’s degree from the University of Arizona. He and his wife are raising four kids, along with one dog, one rabbit and 7 chickens in San Diego, Calif. For more information, visit www.jamessudakow.com.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

I grew up in Southern California in a middle-class home. I am one of two children. I have an older sister and was raised by both my mom and dad — who were married for almost 50 years before my dad passed away several years ago. My dad was an electrical engineer by trade who morphed into a small business leader who ran small manufacturing businesses. My mom was a Special Education teacher at the elementary level. I grew up as a 3rd generation classical violinist, who began playing at age 3 — something I ultimately ended up turning into an adult creative outlet and profession for a short period of time. Music, creativity, the power of observation and humor was a huge part of the upbringing that my sister and I had — and was a great source of pride for my dad, in particular.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

I founded my business consulting firm about 10 years ago and frequently joked with my wife that it would be a “one-year experiment” before I went back into executive leadership roles within the traditional corporate environment (roles I’d had for a good number of years before getting the courage to launch my own business). Somehow (to my own amazement at times) I still run my business, and I’m having a great time being an “entrepreneur” and small business owner. Along the way, I’ve also recognized my need for continued creative outlets now that I’m not doing music anymore. And that creative outlet has come in the form of writing, which I now do to supplement my business — writing that is intended to be helpful for people (hopefully!) but also cast with irreverence and humor. Most recently, I realized that many of us have challenges around work-life balance. So I recently wrote a book about it from a dad’s perspective.

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?

Organized…and sometimes “not so organized” chaos. We’ve got two young boys under the age of four in the house, and my wife and I are also legal guardians for her younger brother and sister — for whom we’ve been guardians for the last decade. They are now 18 and 22, but we began the “flip the switch” parenting role for them when they were about 7 and 11. So having two toddlers and two teenagers/young adults all inhabiting the same ecosystem while also being the sole financial provider running a business can be quite an adventure — maybe a not so subtle euphemism for “chaos.” In reality, it is an awesome experience. My day to day schedule involves client meetings, business development, and all the operational elements of running my business combined with club soccer and volleyball tournaments and day to day teenager counseling while also creating time and space for potty training, being actively involved in pre-school, and carving out “untouchable” time with my kids every day that I do not allow to be invaded by work at almost any cost.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development? On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is important to make time to spend with your children?

In the simplest way I can describe it, kids need their parents. They need to know they are loved. They need role models to show them the way. And they need consistency. I always tell people that when it comes to heroes, my parents have always been mine. They taught me values, ethics, how to treat people. Some of it was by what they told me. Much of it was by what they did. Those interactions create who you are as a kid but ultimately become the blueprint for who you are as an adult. At the same time, I think we parents lose out on our own development, too, if we don’t spent time with our children. I’ve always thought I was a pretty decent human being, but spending the large amounts of time that I do with my children has helped me develop into a better human being as well.

According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?

I really like this study. At the same time, I’m a firm believer in both quality and quantity. I personally create untouchable time for this with my kids virtually every day. It is of course for their benefit, but on a selfish level (and in full transparency), I may get as much out of it personally as they do. Here are a few things I do:

  • One thing I love to do with the little dudes (our two boys under four) is take walks around the neighborhood. It’s not a major event like a Disneyland outing, and that’s why I like it. The things we look for, the little conversations we have, the things we find in the dirt and on the trails near our house are priceless. Most people in our neighborhood have gotten used to seeing me walking around with them before work in the morning or in the afternoons. I preserve this time with vigilance. I’ve moved morning meetings to after a certain time so that I can continue to do these walks. I think they are invaluable time.
  • We also love to go to the beach or parks — mostly on weekdays when nobody is there. I make it a conscious and intentional effort to create flexibility in my work schedule to allow for these kinds of outings. Sometimes, I end up getting up with the dawn patrol so I can get work done before the kids wake up to enable me to be able to do this, but it’s worth the effort.
  • We also have older kids who have entirely different needs. Whereas they are less interested in spending a huge amount of time with those of us who are “old and tired” as they describe things sometimes (one of our teenagers who is a senor in high school likes to joke with me that I’d be in bed before the 2 year old if I could make that happen) compared with their friends, we try to preserve family dinners once a week to stay connected. It can be a real challenge with schedules that are so different between toddlers and teenagers, but we make an effort to do it because it’s important.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?

This is such an important topic for me, and it was largely the topics I talked about in my recent book about work-life balance. I came up with several things that allow for this to happen:

  1. Don’t try to do everything — I call it “the superhero syndrome”. And I used to try to do everything, but doing everything makes you scattered and not fully present in the moment. So curbing that habit has been really helpful. Now I arbitrarily identify only the top 3 things for work and 3 things for life that I will do each day. That creates so much more space for me to be fully present in everything I’m doing.
  2. Eliminate what I call “arbitrary urgency.” I think we all feel rushed with urgent deadlines, but often times I found that we impose that urgency on ourselves. In other words, we create urgency (and stress) when it doesn’t need to be there. Once I started eliminating that arbitrary urgency, it gave me the opportunity to be more available and focused when I was with my kids.
  3. Create boundaries. I call it practicing “ruthless compartmentalization.” This has been one of the most successful strategies I’ve implemented. I compartmentalize work time and home time, and I don’t let either bubble get penetrated by the other. When I first started doing this, some people wondered if creating these formal boundaries — especially in the technology era — would kill a career. Fortunately, I found that it hasn’t. Ironically, it’s actually had the opposite effect. I’ve been more focused and efficient at work. And I’ve been more attentive and not distracted when I’m with the kids.
  4. Create buffer zones. I used to look at my calendar, and it was back to back all day long (not just with work but with both work and life outside of work). I started giving everything an extra arbitrary 50% when I thought about how long it would take to do. This inherently created more space in my calendar and when combined with curbing the superhero syndrome and eliminating arbitrary urgency gave me a lot more space.
  5. Put time with my family first followed by work. It was a counterintuitive approach — and kind of a risky one for a guy who is the sole financial provider. I used to do the work and then make sure I had time with the family. But I took kind of a bold risk of doing things with my family first and then doing the work. I found that the outcomes were surprising. My time with the kids was preserved and never compromised. And when it came time to work, I was able to do it guilt-free without the proverbial elephant on my shoulders around things at home I might be missing. I wasn’t missing things because I had prioritized those important things at home with the kids first.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

Being fully present when you are with the kids. To me, I think it is that simple. And it is so easy to not do that. Check that quick e-mail or text. Multi-task on something else. For me, I try really hard to be 100% with the kids when I am with the kids. The other thing I think defines a good parent is a parent who tries really hard to be a good parent. I had a wise mentor who once told me that trying really hard and caring about being a good parent is half the battle. When I first became a legal guardian for my wife’s younger brother and sister — long before we had our own biological children — he told me that kids just want you to be there for and with them. It is the simplest concept but can get easily lost in the daily hustle. I try to put maximum effort into doing those things.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

For me, that’s an interesting question because we have two young boys who are just starting to learn basic concepts but also two older kids who we’ve been with since their pre-teen years. The best example I can give is that my wife and I try to teach them that it’s not about how many times you fall down (or how hard) but that being a person who gets back up and perseveres is inculcated into them at their foundation. I spend a lot of time talking about situations where I’ve failed or gotten knocked down but how I get up and try again. We talk a lot about seizing opportunities out there but that these opportunities don’t always knock at your door — you have to go find them and knock on their doors.

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?

For me, this is simple — happiness. It’s not about what achievements you’ve made, or how high you’ve climbed on any proverbial corporate ladder. Happiness is the ultimate barometer of success. What my wife and I always talk about as parents is our role in helping all four of the kids we are raising get to a place of living lives that they are happy with.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

My wife and I subscribe to a Washington Post regular series of parenting articles. They are exceptional, and I read them with regularity. For the most part, though, the biggest resources that I rely on to make me a better parent are my own parents. I look at what my parents did raising me and my sister, and I feel like if I can emulate that to even 50% of what they’ve done, I’d feel like I was a successful parent. I talk with my mom regularly, and she is a great sounding board. My dad is no longer alive, but my wife and I frequently engage in “what would Max do?” conversations. Not only is it a valuable way to pick his brain even though he’s already passed but keeps conversations about grandpa alive in our house.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“There is always a way.” This came from my dad, who used to always tell me and my sister that if we wanted something, there was always a way. Sometimes, you just have to work harder to figure out what that way is. That quote has been relevant for me my entire life — from when I converted myself from classical violinist to an electric rock violinist to starting my own business to writing books. And I frequently think about my dad when I’m doing all of these things. I try to impart these message to the kids we are raising — you can always get there. The road may look a bit funny, but there is always a way.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’ve always wondered what things would be like if each of us chose one day to be the nicest person we could be all day long. And if everyone chose the same day, what would that day be like? It’s kind of a nirvana pie in the sky dream, but there’s a lot of focus on taking on large community service projects or big charity events that have large scope and scale, but I’ve always wanted to break it down to the small level. Small nice things each of us could do each day — we could all participant in that and practice “niceness” all day just for one day. That would be my “movement.”

Thank you so much for sharing your inspirational thoughts with us!

Dr. Ely Weinschneider is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist based in New Jersey. Dr. Ely specializes in adolescent and adult psychotherapy, parenting, couples therapy, geriatric therapy, and mood and anxiety disorders. He also has a strong clinical interest in Positive Psychology and Personal Growth and Achievement, and often makes that an integral focus of treatment. An authority on how to have successful relationships, Dr. Ely has written, lectured and presented nationally to audiences of parents, couples, educators, mental health professionals, clergy, businesses, physicians and healthcare policymakers on subjects such as: effective parenting, raising emotionally intelligent children, motivation, bullying prevention and education, managing loss and grief, spirituality, relationship building, stress management, and developing healthy living habits. Dr. Ely also writes a regular, nationally syndicated column about the importance of “being present with your children”. When not busy with all of the above, Dr. Ely works hard at practicing what he preaches, raising his adorable brood (which includes a set of twins and a set of triplets!) together with his wife in Toms River, New Jersey.

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