I know nothing about Google’s CFO Patrick Pichette except for what he wrote in a memo a few days ago on Google+ announcing his resignation. I’m not one to follow business news, (I know Google helps me find stuff and I use it every day) but I am a sucker for the human interest story. So when I read the full announcement, I was thrilled for him and for all of us. (You can read the post here. Very worth the two minutes.)
Why is this significant that a high profile exec from a major company like Google is stepping down to “spend more time with his family”? As he even points out in his memo, “you’ve heard that line before.” A few reasons. In the age of Lean In when women are constantly grappling with and discussing how to balance high-powered careers with healthy family relationships, it is refreshing to hear a man step into the angst and admit the struggle is real for him too. So it’s the same conversation with a new and fresh twist.
Before we go any further, let me acknowledge that in Mr. Pichette’s case there is the luxury of choice. He has the means financially to step away from his job and travel the world. It certainly brings out the “must be nice” in a lot of us. I get, completely get, that not everyone has this option. Most of us don’t. I heard just last week that half of our country lives paycheck to paycheck, so that’s half of us right there, that can’t afford to pull back. I also get that cultural values are shaped by those who have influence. That is why I see his resignation as a win for all of us. When more people, especially those at the top, step up and publicly say “I have limits and my family deserves to have a part of me too” the cultures of both companies and communities begin to shift.
I have a lock screen on my phone that quotes Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” I put it there with the hope that every time I pick up my phone I will be reminded that giving my attention here, means taking my attention away from something, or more importantly someone, else. What am I missing when I’m staring at that screen? That visual reminder worked for about a day, and then my good intentions of holding myself accountable to unnecessary phone surfing were overshadowed by the lure of the machine.
We all live within the confines of 24 hours per day. None of us can dedicate limitless hours to work and family, it is humanly impossible. Perhaps it’s the Spaniard in me that thinks everyone should go home for a 2-hour lunch and take a month off in August that’s speaking. More I think it’s the American in me who believe’s in our country’s work ethic, but sees it moving toward unrealistic and unhealthy demands. Technology gives us flexibility and prevents us from ever being “off work.” The lure of the machine, both literal and figurative, is real. Mr. Pichette, though a bit of an extreme case, is recalibrating his work/life balance to meet his family’s needs. There is something to seeing what we value and who we value by where we spend our time and attention. I know first hand this is a constant re-evaluation. So good for him. And good for his family.
Often the public figure “family time” resignation gives a few logistical reasons and then the person disappears, so I appreciated that Mr. Pichette elaborated about why he was leaving. His wife deserves his time NOW. And his wife is the element that stood out to me. We usually hear about kids who are about to fly the coop and accept that as a legitimate reason for taking a break (which I get since my children are growing at rapid speed right in front of me and in fact in the last year I pulled away from work for this very reason. You can read about it here.) But the Pichettes’ children are already out of the house. He is stepping down to spend time with HER. That is a stand on behalf of marriage. And why I am especially enamored with his resignation.
A man at the top who has leaned in and now is saying it’s no longer possible to maintain that life sends a message that the work/life balance is not a women’s issue, it’s a family issue. It’s a people issue. This I think will gain more attention (for better or worse) than a whole slew of moms talking about maternity leave and work/life demands. His position at Google and his gender will highlight that we all must decide to what sacrifice do I do my work? I am not saying here that an 80-hour work week is a bad thing (though as a general rule it probably is), many hard working moms and dads do double shifts to put food on the table. But the larger cultural question here is do we elevate our jobs above our families? Do we set ourselves up for failure when we try to meet unrealistic ideals? I am also not saying that a hard working man is ignoring his family, he almost always is working to provide for his family (yay!). But it is good for all of us to hear a man with options opt for family over ongoing prestige.
So what am I saying? That when a public figure, in this case someone who’s at about at the top of the top can get in our cultural world of tech and money, re-evaluates his family’s work/life balance, it adds another voice to the conversation. And this is a conversation worth having. Because as he describes in his letter, his life is NOW. We’ve established most of us can’t quit our jobs and jump on a plane, but we can make small adjustments to recalibrate our lives to reflect our values. Let us all do the small things within our control to love the lives we have now. Because I want to love my actual life. And there are plenty of small things I can do to put it more in line with my values.
Thank you Mr. Pichette for making your private life a public issue so the rest of us can be reminded (or even hear for the first time from the business crowd) that our family, most especially our spouse, is also worth our time.