Personally, I’ve never been more proud of having made my family, my relationships, the focus of my life instead of my career. It wasn’t easy going against the grain all those years, but it has made all the difference.
That’s what I thought of when I heard the news of Matt Lauer’s firing. I didn’t think, “Oh, that scumbag.” Or, “There goes another sexual predator.” No, what I thought was that “inappropriate sexual behavior” can mean anything. Literally, anything.
I’m not suggesting Lauer is innocent; but as he has now intimated, there’s more to the story than meets the eye. There always is. The only reason he was fired is that it’s easier for companies to fire people than it is to deal with the legal costs and loss of reputation that would ensue if the employee stayed.
Nevertheless, you will now hear an earful from writers and pundits about how terrible men are at their core. But to me there’s a different lesson to be learned, and that is this:
We are all expendable at work. Every single one of us. At the end of the day, a job is just a job—while at home we are irreplaceable. That’s why getting the family thing down is critical, and why our lives should reflect that. Careers are, or should be, the side dish.
Sadly, that is not how we operate. Instead our culture hails work as the be all, end all—especially for women. And what do women do in response? They spend at least a decade, usually more, on their educations and career. They get tunnel vision. They believe their life’s purpose will be work and thus ignore the weight of marriage and family, often until it’s too late.
But careers can change. Yes, they can be rewarding. But most of work is just work, and a job can lose its luster. Or it can come to an abrupt end for some unforseeable reason, as it has for Matt Lauer.
And if we lose our job, one hopes to have a rock solid family to fall back on. (Something tells me that will not be the case with Lauer.) When we lose our job for whatever reason—health problems, being fired or let go—we can usually get another one. We can’t say that about family. If our marriage and family breaks down, we can’t just go out and create a new one.
Doesn’t it make more sense, then, to make family, not work, the focus?
If you have grown children who are just beginning to map out their lives, why not use Lauer’s story to teach the valuable lesson that it doesn’t matter how rich or popular or successful you are in the world outside your doorstep, there will always be people who want to drag you down.
The cultural landscape is bleak. Men and women are finding it harder than ever to make love work. Children too are suffering. As Erica Komisar writes in her new book Being There, “Young women who have been pushed their entire lives to achieve at a high level tell me that if they step off the corporate ladder, they can never get back on at the same level. That’s true; you may never be the CEO of the bank or corporate law firm if you choose to make your family your first priority. But you may not have emotionally healthy children or have a close relationship with your children now or when they’re adults if you make your career your first priority.”
We know these things, yet we continue to talk about and emphasize work. Work has become our drug of choice: it anesthetizes the fact that our relationships aren’t working.
So tell your kids not to make work the center of their lives—their raison d’être. Encourage them instead to focus on family. On choosing the right spouse and making good decisions where their relationships at home are concerned.
It’s the best investment they’ll ever make.