A golden cow statue on top of a stone pillar.

Is Work Your Idol?

After nearly a year of hard work, John finally landed his – and the company’s – largest account. He was ecstatic. Unfortunately, the CEO asked him to come to Denver on Friday to sign the contract and celebrate their new partnership over dinner.

Friday night was Justin’s season opening football game and John hated to miss it. He had promised Justin that he would be there knowing that his son was finally starting at tight end and, as a senior, it would be his last season playing football. He knew that Justin would be upset that his dad had to miss another one of his sporting events but surely he would understand why, given the importance this big deal had for his career.John was looking for the right minute during dinner to break the news to Justin. When he did he was more surprised at the reaction he received from his wife, Robin, than from his son. The news seemed to bounce off of Justin and brought no reaction. Robin, on the other hand, fired back that he couldn’t miss the game and that he would just have to reschedule his Denver meeting. As mom and dad continued to argue, Justin pushed back his chair, got up and went to his room.

“John, you can’t do that to Justin. You know how much he wants to have you at this game. It’s the first time in four years that he will be starting a game. Didn’t you promise him you’d be there?†Robin asked. “Robin, you know how much it pains me to have to miss Justin’s big game but you also know what this new deal means for us. It’s the best thing that could happen to us financially.†he countered.

“John, I’m tired of you always putting your career before our family. It was the same thing when Kelly was still living at home. I can count the times on one hand when you made it to one of her volley ball games or piano recitals.†Robin replied. “Well, it’s not like you and the kids haven’t benefitted from my career. Kelly wouldn’t be going to her private college and Justin wouldn’t be driving his Mustang.†John responded.

John left the table and got himself another glass of wine. He was feeling all kinds of pressure and hoped the alcohol would take away some of the stress. He was simply exhausted and totally dejected after getting verbally beat up by Robin. He felt unappreciated and not understood. What was going on?

A few minutes later Robin followed John into the living room and sat down next to him on the couch. She knew that her husband was under a lot of pressure at work to perform well but she also believed that he fed off this pressure. Work was like a drug for him; taking him high but then slamming him back down again once the drug lost its strength.

“John, you know that the kids and I really appreciate how you provide for us and have given us every comfort that we have desired. But over the years it seems like your job has become more important to you than your family.†Robin stated in a non- threating tone. “In less than a year Justin will be out of the house and I don’t want him leaving thinking that his dad really didn’t care about him.†Robin added.

John was letting his wife’s comments sink in. He realized that she knew him better than he knew himself. Yes, in a way his work really was a drug that he craved after. The money took away his fear of not being able to provide for his family. He loved the title the company gave him and how all of his colleagues and boss respected him. But sometimes he questioned if it was all really worth it. He was physically and mentally exhausted, his daughter only called home if she needed money and soon his son would be out the door too.

It doesn’t really matter how this story ends. What does matter is how your story ends.

Where is the path you are on taking you? If you jump ahead 10, 20, 30 years from now and look back on your life’s work, will you be able to say: I invested my time, talents and treasure in the things that are really important to me such as family and relationships? Or, have I been distracted by idols that have taken control of my life?

For the one it might be work. For the other it could be the size of a financial portfolio, golf, body fitness, materialism, sex or you fill in the blank.

Pursuing an idol can lead to:

Pride: Feeling that you are better than others because of what you have achieved. The worship of a title, status or a big paycheck.

Fear: The feeling that comes when you believe that you are not good enough, that you are letting someone down. What if I don’t measure up? The solution: work harder and longer hours.

Burnout: Investing everything you have into the pursuit of your idol can lead to physical, mental and/or emotional exhaustion.

Loss: The loss of family or friends who aren’t willing to play second fiddle to an idol that is more important than they are.

Guilt:  Deep down inside you probably know that what you are doing is wrong. It might even make you sick to your stomach.

As business professionals we all take our work seriously and want to perform at the highest level. This pursuit of perfection and achievement may lead to a very unhealthy imbalance and even to idol worship.

Check your compass. Get some open and honest feedback from a loved one or trusted colleague. Invest in an executive coach who can call you out, hold you accountable and help you recalibrate your values and goals. At the end of your career you’ll want to look back and be able to say: “My priorities were correctly set. I have no regrets.â€