Lessons In Humility
There was a particularly busy time in my husband’s career a few years ago, when, in addition to long hours at the office, he also frequently had to bring work home. Family meals on weekends were often interrupted by urgent conference calls, and playtimes were paused for him to send emails. The kids weren’t too happy about being told to be quiet in their own home because Daddy was on the phone or having their games with Daddy disturbed.
One weekday morning, as we sat down to breakfast, the name of one of our close friends came up in conversation. Our seven-year old son interrupted us with a fairly innocuous question.
“Mom, what kind of job does Uncle have?” he asked.
“He is an executive,” I said hurriedly, as I got back to discussing the man with my husband.
“What does ‘an executive’ mean?” he asked.
My husband and I carried on with our conversation, but my son tugged at my sleeve.
“Mom, what does ‘an executive’ mean?”
My son is nothing if not dogged.
“It means that he manages people in his job and that he has to make sure that everything is happening correctly, in the right manner and at the right time. Now, please hurry up and finish those scrambled eggs.”
“Is that like Daddy’s job?”
“Yes, I guess so. Eat your eggs quickly, please. We’re running late for school,” I replied, checking my watch.
“Ok. So I guess he doesn’t do anything really important then.”
My husband’s mouth fell open while I choked on my coffee.
“What makes you say that?” I asked. “Daddy’s job is very important.”
“Well, all Daddy does is talk on the phone and press buttons on his Blackberry. He doesn’t build anything. He doesn’t operate on people. He doesn’t catch thieves or fight fires. He just speaks with a lot of people on the phone or sends them messages. And he does that a lot during our playtime.”
There’s nothing quite like a child’s perspective to add a dose of humility to our lives.
So many of us suffer from inflated assumptions about what we do for a living. Most of our jobs are not life-or-death scenarios, but we treat them as if they are. We might not be indispensable in our jobs, but grandiosely, we believe that if we don’t participate in a conference call, or attend a meeting on the weekend, or reply to work emails during dinner, the company will collapse. We’re so committed to our work and to the image that we wish to create of ourselves – that of hard-working, motivated and professional individuals – that we’ve forgotten to take time for those that matter most. And often, we realize the folly of our actions too late.
At the end of a long day, when we’re sitting around the dinner table, what is really more important: a work email, or the story that our child is telling about his school day? The email will still be in that inbox an hour later, but the story might not be there anymore—forgotten, or replaced by new stories we’re still too busy to hear.
It’s easy to mix up priorities in the hectic lives that so many of us lead; luckily for us, there’s always a kid to set us straight. Sometimes, a child’s view adds just the right balance, reminding us of the truly important things in life.