In his job juggling $2 TRILLION of investments, Mohamed El-Erian must have faced some fairly hairy moments that required immense resolve and quick thinking. But he wasn’t prepared for what happened one morning when he asked his 10-year-old daughter to brush her teeth.
Instead of going into the bathroom, his daughter went into her bedroom. What came next shocked him so much he quit his job as the chief executive of the PIMCO investment fund (one of the largest on the planet).
In an interview with Worth magazine, he recalls:
“About a year ago, I asked my daughter several times to do something — brush her teeth I think it was — with no success. I reminded her that it was not so long ago that she would have immediately responded. She asked me to wait a minute, went to her room, and came back with a piece of paper. It was a list that she had compiled of her important events and activities that I had missed due to work commitments. Talk about a wake-up call.”
The list included her first day of school, her first football match, a Halloween parade — and 19 other life events.
El-Erian, whose earnings at PIMCO apparently reached $100 million a year, said the incident showed him instantly that he had been prioritizing his jet-setting job, and as a result, his relationship with his daughter had suffered.
“I felt awful and got defensive: I had a good excuse for each missed event! Travel, important meetings, an urgent phone call, sudden to-dos. But it dawned on me that I was missing an infinitely more important point. As much as I could rationalize it … my work-life balance had gotten way out of whack, and the imbalance was hurting my very special relationship with my daughter. I was not making nearly enough time for her.”
What surprised me most about this article was the fact that it was a dad making this realization, as all too often it’s moms who make the decision between career and motherhood. And it appears he’s not the only father who’s struggled with this. Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse in Australia, spent several years caring for patients on their deathbeds. She recorded their dying regrets and found that one of the top five biggest regrets was: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” This came from every single man she nursed. They deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
Obviously, those that she was caring for came from an era where men earned the bacon and women raised a family. I wonder in 30 or 40 years whether women will have this same regret. That they gave too much of their love to a job? After all, you can never get the time back again. I myself struggled with this.
The stress of trying to hold down a full-time job on the UK’s biggest soap opera as a script editor made me ill. Physically ill. I felt guilty every single day as I dropped my kids off at nursery school (which had cost over half my salary each month) and then raced back every single night to make sure I wasn’t later than the 6 PM pick-up time. I’d then dash home, do bath time, homework, the laundry, read scripts, and then fall asleep on the sofa around 10 PM. I felt like I never had a second for myself. But most of all, I felt like I was failing at my job (always leaving meetings early because I had to “collect the kids”) — and at motherhood. I desperately wanted to have more time with my kids. Time to attend things that mattered to them. Time to be present during those precious years when they actually still needed me.
So what’d I do? I quit the TV job, got some blogging work, and am trying to write for those TV shows instead of editing them. Financially, I feel the pinch. I can’t afford to buy new clothes or go out or get my hair done. But it doesn’t matter. I’m there for my kids. I collect them from school and have much more time for homework and swimming classes and all of that kind of stuff. It isn’t as glamorous and it’s definitely not as well paid, but I’m far less stressed and I’m a happier person for it.
The 56-year-old investment guru also went the part-time route and is now working on a “portfolio of part-time jobs.” He’s enjoying his time with his daughter, preparing her breakfast, driving her to and from school, and is planning a holiday for them together. El-Erian said he realized that departing executives and politicians who say that they wanted to spend more time with their families is a cliche, but added that he had realized his time was better spent being a good father than a good investor. He is really fortunate to be able to make that decision. Not many people are financially able to leave their job and still earn enough of a wage to make ends meet. And El-Erian knows it.
“I’m the first to recognize that I am incredibly fortunate to be able to structure my life in this way. Unfortunately, not everyone has this luxury. But, hopefully, as companies give more attention to the importance of work-life balance, more and more people will be in a better position to act holistically on what’s important to them.”
I agree. If more companies allowed flexible working hours for moms and dads, the world would be a much better place. You’d have a less-stressed, more-encouraged worker, and children would get the benefits of seeing both parents. After all, we don’t want to have regrets, do we?