The following is an excerpt from Off Balance by Matthew Kelly.
In Search of Priorities
My life and career have been filled with incredible opportunities that often make me stop and look again. I am often overwhelmed by the people and experiences that make up any given week, and yet, the most extraordinary experiences still tend to come when you least expect them. It was that way on a cold morning in Boston last winter. I have never confined myself exclusively to the Fortune 500 space, my partners I also very much enjoy working with small and medium size companies. Nonetheless, I spend a lot of time working with Fortune 500 companies. They are all different and they are all the same, and it is a fascinating world. But having done as much work as I have with various corporations, I must say, I am very rarely surprised.
I had been invited in by one of America’s premier companies to speak to a group of their mid-level managers who had been chosen as rising stars within the organization. The seminar was to be based on my book The Dream Manager and specifically focused on the issue of employee engagement. But for thirty-five minutes, in the middle of my four-hour session, a senior executive was going to speak to the group about work-life balance and how it relates to employee engagement.
Taking my seat in the back of the room I didn’t know what to expect, but I will admit I was a bit nervous what direction his time with the group might take. For the sake of anonymity let’s say his name was Tom. I had met him for a few minutes earlier that day. He seemed quite and introverted, and to be honest, I wondered if he could hold the groups attention. To say that he held the groups attention would be a massive understatement. He captivated the audience. Within forty-five seconds of him first opening his mouth I was reaching for my note pad. I took more notes in that thirty-five minutes than during any speech I attended last year. It was powerful.
“I don’t know if I have work-life balance. I do know I like my life. I enjoy my work, I have a rewarding family life, and both are important to me.” The audience was shifting in their seats, still settling down a little, still sizing him up.
“What I can tell you is that is wasn’t always that way. A few years ago all I did was work. I was on the road incessantly, had gotten out of shape, and wasn’t even aware that my marriage was in trouble.” He had them now. The room was silent. He had made himself personally vulnerable in a way that the corporate world doesn’t see enough of and people were listening. “My wife sat me down one day and told me she didn’t think out marriage was working, and that she felt like we were chasing different things. That was perhaps the scariest moment in my life.
“My life is very different today. The reason is that I have worked hard to figure out what really matters to me and have developed a value structure. My priority list is fairly simple: faith, marriage, children, health, and work. It took me a while to make the list, but since I made it I have carried a copy with me everywhere, and the list has become a guide and touchstone in times of decision.”
“Now, the first thing I want to make clear is that this is my value structure and priority list. Yours may very well be different, but you should all have one. And it is up to you to figure out what your priorities are.”
“It goes without saying, of course, that there have been times since I put this list together ten years ago that I have unnecessarily violated my priorities. Sometimes I did it unconsciously and at other times I did it consciously, deceiving myself into believing that it was absolutely necessary and unavoidable. All this has served to teach me what I consider to be the first law of your value structure: Don’t mortgage your higher priorities for your lower priorities. Keep the list in front of you. Keep it especially close when making decisions.”