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The Career/Family Happiness Matrix

Robert Greiner
Robert Greiner
3 min read
The Career/Family Happiness Matrix

One of my top five if-i-could-go-back-in-time-and-give-my-younger-self-advice moments is unquestionably when my daughter (7) was born. At the time, I was driving 120 miles/day round trip to work and was part of a project that was formative in my career growth. I wouldn't be where I am today without it.

The issue at the time was, I didn't have the ability (or maybe willingness, or both) to set proper boundaries around my work and personal life. My wife and I were both hyper-focused on our careers and we had the margin in our lives to lean heavily into work.

So, when my daughter was born. I took two weeks off. I thought it was plenty. After all, I never took more than two weeks off and I had important client-stuff to take care of! What a mistake.

The thing that people don't tell you about having your first kid (or maybe they did) is that it's precisely 10,000x more difficult than you think it will be - and also brings orders of magnitude more joy than you expect. So, I took two weeks.

Everything seemed fine at first, but over time it was clear we needed more time as a family-of-three to settle into our new, wonderful, way-of-life. The next few months were way harder than they needed to be, but I didn't take enough time off and didn't put the right boundaries in place when I went back to work. This was a calibration that took about 18-months to sort itself out.

Luckily, I'm a quick study, and when my son was born (3), I took nine-weeks off. Things went much smoother.

It had been a while since I thought about that period of my life, which seems a lifetime ago, until one of my professional heroes Mark Horstman of Manager Tools shared the following framework in a recent leadership conference speaker session. Mark always has a way of putting things in perspective.

The magnitude of joy and misery outlined in the matrix are for you to fill out personally. Some are more family focused and overweight that dimension - others prioritize career success and are quite content to make that their primary focus. You won't get any judgement from me here.

Regardless of your approach, the risky move is to neglect family over career over the long term. First, because it will lead to the most potential misery if things don't go well career wise. Second, Family is the dimension most under your control. You never know what might derail your career. Issues with your health, macro-economic events, pandemics, or delays in the next position up the ladder becoming available.

The point is to intentionally fill out each quadrant with your own values, write it down, and use it as a north-star guide when tough decisions need to be made. Or, use it as a frequent reminder to align the hundreds of little decisions we make every week with your values.

I'm writing this down mostly as a reminder for me, and for my 7-year-younger self. Hopefully this is helpful to you as well and you find it at a time when it's useful to you.

"That's all great, what can I do today?" I'm so glad you asked! Open up your calendar, find a week (or two, or three) that are relatively open - you might need to go out a little bit - and mark it out of office. There's your boundary, stick to it. While you are out, focus on leveling-up your relationships with those around you that you care about the most.

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Professional optimist. I write a weekly newsletter for humans at the intersection of business, technology, leadership, and career growth.