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Do you need more tension between your work and relationships?

Josh Clark, CEO Richer Life

July 27, 2015

I’ve been traveling a lot lately. In a period of about 90 days, I’ve worked in New Jersey, Ohio, Colorado, Indiana, Nebraska, Arizona, and Missouri. Oh and one more place, California, yes, I live in the great state of California and am currently engaged in a coaching relationship with the executive team of a leading technology company. I’m also a Teaching Pastor at my church. So, I guess California makes the list.

In my consulting business, I’m privileged to work with dynamic teams from around the country. I love what I do. “Empowering others to live authentic lives of deep impact” is my personal mission statement. Helping leaders increase their life’s impact is incredibly satisfying, and being satisfied with one’s work is critical.

Steve Jobs once said, “The only way to be genuinely satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

There are a determined few who refuse to surrender their aspirations to do something truly meaningful, but for many, as they grow older, their dreams are peeled away by the realities of life, and they settle. They pick jobs for legitimate reasons at the time, but as life goes on they feel stuck. And they begin to accept that it’s not realistic for them to do something they truly love for a living. Settling in work can affect their relationships in one of two ways: 1) they accept their work as necessary to support their relationships, or 2) they resent their relationships for limiting their options in work. Unfortunately, option 2 is the more common reaction.

Others, through the dogged pursuit of work they love create a career beyond their wildest imagination. They have success, significance, and fulfillment in their vocation. They’re doing great work that makes a difference for others, but their vocational success comes at the expense of their physical, emotional, spiritual and relational health. They don’t experience intimacy with their family and lack friendships outside of work. And although they want to, they aren’t giving back to their community.

As I work with high-impact leaders across the country, it seems many have resigned themselves to choosing one of the two paths. A high-impact career, doing work they love or a healthy personal life filled with meaningful relationships.

“I reject this choice.”

I have goals for my career and my relationships. And yes, these goals often create tension in my life but managing the tension between my vocational and relational goals consistently moves me forward in life.

Simply put, the tension moves me forward.

Yes, as my business has taken off, it’s placed new stress on my relationships. My 20,000 airline miles have carried me away from my family and friends at inopportune times. As a husband and father of five, and as a pastor in my local church, I feel this struggle between my thriving business and my other life domains. But I’ve learned that if properly managed, this tension can be a driving force for good. 

Let me describe how creating tension between my career and relationships has been an active force for good in my life.

Through my early thirties, my career took me from Ohio to Georgia and on to California. Each transition happened in cooperation with my key relationships, and each presented unique challenges that required me to grow in my emotional, spiritual, and relational health. While the cycle of planting, uprooting, and re-planting relationally was difficult, it increased my bond with those closest to me. In this season, my career goals set the tone for my families geographic location. My wife was on board, and my kids were too young to know the difference. My work created tension with my family, but we managed the tension and grew together as a result.

Now, at age 38, my career is no longer in the geographical drivers seat. My family relationships have planted me in California. With four of my five children in school, SoCal is our home. Every once in a while, my wife laughingly reminds me that if I were to move again, I would be traveling alone. While this is a joke, it’s also a clear statement of her desire to keep our lives firmly planted in SoCal.

In 2013, when I transitioned from my leadership role at Sunridge Church, she asked me to do everything possible to stay in California. I had career opportunities around the country, but they weren’t consistent with the goals I had set for my personal relationships. I can remember feeling an extreme tension between my goals for my career and my family.

So what did I do? I worked to manage the tension by asking permission to travel. I explained that to keep the family firmly planted I may have to uproot myself periodically. While this was different than the life we’d imagined, we committed to the experiment as a way to manage our tension. I took a role with a property management company in the Florida panhandle, and we made it work.

That year I was away from my family every third week, but as a result of my flexible work schedule we were able to take two extended vacations in Florida and two more to visit family in Ohio. We discovered that my flexible work schedule created an environment within which my career and relationship goals could thrive.

Today, my ministry consulting with The Unstuck Group, and executive coaching and Life Planning here at JoshClarkIs, allows me the opportunity to accomplish work that is significant and meaningful to me while keeping my family firmly planted in California. It also provides us great flexibility. We recently spent 21 days in Ohio with extended family. My kids got to stay with grandparents while I traveled around the country. I was only in OH 10 days, but in those ten days I experienced quantity and quality time with those I love. Together we made memories impossible to imagine without my chosen career.

So do you see how creating and embracing the tension between my relationships and career goals led me to a life I love?

In his classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning, holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl, writes, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”

In every area of life, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become is indispensable to continued progress in life.

“Resist the temptation to lower your career goals. Reject the idea that to succeed in work you must sacrifice your relationships. Aim high on both fronts, then manage the tension.”

I’d love to hear how you are learning to manage the tension in your life. Please take a moment to let me know in the comments section of this post.

Thanks for reading. Keep on leading. Let me know how I can help.


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