Few people make it to the top of their professions without a supportive family. Certainly, that has been the case in my life. The reason this is so important is that trials and tribulations accompany life in a fishbowl. Stated simply, life is often lonely at the top, and a supportive family can provide the safety net of comfort in those times of need.
The ride to the top typically also includes the need to move often from one city to another. As my resume shows, my family and I moved nine times during my fifty-year career. Most of the moves were smooth and essentially uneventful for my family and me. One, however, was not – that was the move from Nashville to accept the chancellorship of the University of Tennessee at Martin.
The move to Martin was right from a career perspective, but from a family perspective it was the most traumatic experience of our life. Chip, a high school junior, and Tandy, a seventh grader, were forced to transfer from urban to rural schools mid-year, leaving behind beloved friends at a crucial time in their childhoods. Tandy, in particular, had a tough period of adjustment. I can painfully remember many nights when, as a family, we tearfully discussed the move and sought to adjust to it. We wondered many times whether the move was worth the costs in emotion.
Families of individuals in high-profile, pressure-packed leadership roles also have to confront the difficult task of finding quality time together. There are so many competing factors. I can remember well the frequent guilt I felt, spending so much time fulfilling my leadership responsibilities. Time and again I would have dinner with student leaders at the campus, while my teenage children ate alone in the private quarters of the chancellor’s residence. Time and again I had to attend student events on campus while my children had events at their schools.
A comment from my first boss, Coleman Harwell, gave me guidance and solace in dealing with competition for time with my family. I shall never forget his words when I shared with him my concern that I was spending eighty hours a week in my first newspaper job, which left little time to spend with my young wife and infant son. “It is not the quantity of time but rather the quality of time that makes a difference for a family,” he wisely told me.
His words have consistently rung true over the years as I observed hundreds of families in which fathers who were not in leadership roles were at home practically every evening and all weekend, yet many obviously had little interaction with their wives and children. Thanks to wise advice, I was able to carve out quality time – coaching teams on which my children played, attending events that made a difference to them, and arranging frequent out-of-town trips and vacations where we enjoyed each other without disruption.
My family survived life in a fishbowl and the frequent moves from one city to another. They always accepted occasional criticism of their husband and father as par for the course.
-adapted from Journal of a Fast Track Life © 2018 Charles E. Smith. All rights reserved. Top photo courtesy of Pexels.com