By Michelle Nichols Back in July, after I wrote about the tragedy our family endured four years ago, the e-mails from readers poured in (see BW Online, 7/19/02, "The Most Important Thing of All"). I read each response as it arrived and then filed them all away. Only last week did I return to them -- an appropriate moment as the nation marked September 11 by drawing strength once again from the family ties that sustain us in the face of grief and loss.
Long ago, when I took physics in high school, I learned that every action has an equal but opposite reaction. It's a rule that applies to people, too: The worst of times can bring out the best in people. After my column appeared, I heard not only from U.S. readers, but also from the four corners of the world -- places like Argentina, Japan, India, Australia, and Finland.
The column's advice was simple: Sell faster in order to spend more time with your families. I call this the struggle of the juggle because, between the job of selling and the vocation of parenting, it sometimes seems all but impossible to keep so many balls in the air at once.
A WORLD OF THANKS. Readers' responses touched me as much as my words apparently touched them, so I'm turning this column over to those who wrote. I have decided against using last names because I didn't ask if I could quote them, and because I worry that some might be embarrassed to find their private correspondence being broadcast to the world.
"I'm a relatively new father and my every hour is shrouded in guilt," confessed Andy, who is busy bootsrapping his startup. "If I'm working, I feel guilty about not being with my family. If I'm with my family, I feel guilty that I'm not putting enough effort into my other 'baby' -- the business." From Mary came a note that distilled the challenge of balancing work and family into a few short words: "The tough part is finding the right job, one that you can be great at, have time with your family, and still make a decent living."
NO MORE SQUANDERED MOMENTS. A salesperson's goal is to move customers to action, so letters like Bryan's were some of my favorites. "I immediately left my computer," he said, "to say good-bye to my two kids as they went off for a day of summer camp. Reminders of what's truly important in life never hurt."
Wrote Mark: "When I forwarded your column...one fellow said that, when he was asked to coach his 7-year-old's baseball team this year, he passed. By golly, he'll coach next year!"
From Denver, Steve admitted, "You hit me hard, personal, and right in the solar plexus...I wanted to send this note of thanks for taking the time to 'punch' me! I was wavering between taking the whole day off tomorrow (my youngest son's birthday) or simply celebrating in the evening. I let everyone know in the office that I won't be here tomorrow." And from Kirk came this thought: "Thanks. I will cut out a little early today because of you."
I was heartened, too, by the P.S. that ended Jon's thoughts. "As a small-business owner who has to sell on a daily basis, this article really struck home, since I have two children."
COURAGE OF CONVICTION. Wendy spoke of having the strength to resist peer pressure: "Although I work only three days a week, I sometimes feel as if my co-workers think I'm regimented because I leave the office promptly at 5:00 p.m. I know I'm doing the right thing. It's just nice to hear it."
Or, as Imelda put it, the column gave her "the courage to continue giving my twin boys the highest priority. So many times I have chosen to skip business functions that I know I should attend. But that would have meant time away from my kids. I have doubted the value of my staying with them, when they just want me to hang around the house while they have friends over. But they like having me there, even though they may not be interacting with me all the time."
Daanish pointed to the universal bond of parenthood. "I am half way across the globe, belonging to another culture, another race, another nationality, and yes, another religion," was how he introduced himself. "Yet there is so much in common between us: We are parents with children."
QUEST FOR BALANCE. Leslie wrote, "This column was very timely reminder of our true priorities as moms -- especially when patience wears thin with summer activities and trying to work. I just got back from chaperoning a group from my son's school at choir camp in Wisconsin, (we live in Texas). Exhausting as it was, it was the right place to be. When I read your article, my exasperation about the laundry completely disappeared."
"I'm lucky that both of my kids are in their early 20's," wrote Wally, "but your article reminded me that I haven't spent enough time with them lately."
Rajiv recounted how he and his wife both worked until their daughter's second birthday, when she quit work to spend the next few years as a full-time mom. "I've learned to balance my work and family time -- and to smile a bit," he said. "I've learned that time is a perishable commodity. It can never be reclaimed."
Donald forwarded my column to 100 English-speaking friends in Finland, where he teaches, and to his B-school students, too. Fredia wrote, "We have several young mothers in our office, with young children, and I printed your story for them to read." Ironically, Fredia had been hunting the Web for information on salaries, remuneration, and comparable worth when her search engine led her to my column instead!
LOVE CONQUERS ALL. My daughter's school principal made copies for all her staff. Melody, a friend of mine since childhood, wrote, "I knew this column was coming but I am crying anyhow. This is going to my managers and co-workers."
Sadly, I heard from parents whose children had faced, or are facing, difficulties of their own. Karlie's son, Liam, is battling leukemia, but she cheered me up when she wrote, "I will frame the article and hang it in my bathroom, which is where my inspirational notes and quotes live." Sandra's 3-year-old son nearly drowned in their backyard pool. Peter lost a 5-year-old grandchild to cancer. From Ronald, whose daughter also battled leukemia, came this insight: "I made it my goal at that time to kiss, hug, and tell her I love her at every possible moment. These daddy-daughter moments continue to this day."
Matt wrote, "You go to a news Web site and it's doom, gloom, and
boom. We can only handle so much of that. Thanks for being a part of the solution."
Readers, thank you for your many kind and thoughtful e-mails. Together, we can indeed be a part of the solution in the struggle to balance work and family. Happy Selling! Michelle Nichols is a Sales consultant, trainer, and speaker based in Houston. She welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org