Editor's note: This article was originally published on the Jacob's website, Nurturing Marriage. It has been republished here with permission.
Fame, fortune, prestige, popularity — who doesn't want them? You'll be happier and have more time for loved ones after you reach the next milestone...right? Or is it the milestone after that?
It is too easy and, sadly, all too common that we become so consumed by chasing these grandiose ends that we miss out on what matters most — our marriages and our families. There are few things in life that will have a greater impact on your success, contentment and self-esteem than a happy and thriving marriage.
Means to an end
Though I am relatively young in my career, my work has been rewarding and fulfilling. It has been a great source of learning, growth, satisfaction, opportunity and enjoyment. My job also gives me an identity, but it is only a small part of who I am.
Despite the satisfaction I get from my work, it does not define me. Certainly, there are professional goals that I hope to achieve, but these are, ultimately, only a means to an end — not the end itself. In other words, my work (though enjoyable and fulfilling) is only one thread in the tapestry that is my life (OK, maybe a few threads).
If you're anything like me, you know that it can be very easy to focus most of your time and attention on your career. This is understandable. Our employers deserve our very best and it's important that we perform well for them. If you run your own business, it takes constant attention and incredible effort to build it and keep it going. But, if you're not careful, you can miss fully appreciating and enjoying the person who makes life truly wonderful — your spouse!
Think about it. You could have all the finest things money can buy, but if you had no one to share those things with, what would it all mean? Nothing. If you sacrifice your most treasured relationship to get those "things," have you really done yourself any good? No.
Determine what's most important to you
One of my favorite books is "How Will You Measure Your Life?" by Clayton Christensen, a world renowned scholar and professor. At the beginning of the book, Christensen shares observations from his own business school graduating class. His classmates were talented, very bright and well positioned to live extraordinarily successful lives. Unfortunately, as time went on, Christensen observed how some of those classmates unintentionally implemented strategies in their lives that led to broken marriages, broken families, ethical shortcomings and, ultimately, regret.
Like Christensen, each of us probably knows a handful of individuals who have sacrificed their marriages and families while chasing that all too elusive "successful life." But, when weighed in the balance, too often what is given up far outweighs any prize that could be earned.
It is easy to get caught up in the mentality that "the more money I make, the happier I'll be." However, this is a dangerous philosophy to follow — one that could lead to very painful effects. Far too many people have looked back on their lives and come to the realization that they focused so long and hard on building successful careers that they missed the success they could have had with their spouses and children.
It makes me think of the story of the man who worked night and day climbing the "ladder of success." When he finally reached the top, to his complete dismay, he found that the ladder had been leaning against the wrong wall! Determine what's most important to you and make sure your ladder is leaning against the right wall.
You may be thinking, "Can you have both? Can you have a successful, thriving career, and a happy marriage?" Absolutely! You just have to prioritize. Be sure that your marriage always sits very high on your list of priorities.
Decide now and chart a course
There are many unfortunate examples of broken marriages due to one or more spouses becoming completely engrossed in career aspirations. But, among all those negative examples, I recently came across a very positive one.
In early 2014, Mohamed El-Erian resigned from his very lucrative position as CEO of PIMCO, a premier investment firm. In explaining why, he shared an experience he had with his then 10-year-old daughter. After asking her to perform some simple task, El-Erian explains how she 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."
From time to time, each of us probably needs a wakeup call. That wakeup call could come in many forms (e.g. sickness, loss of a loved one, loss of a job, divorce, etc.). However, not everyone has to attend the "school of hard knocks" to learn this important lesson. Your wake up call could come in the form of a note from your 10-year-old daughter or a discussion with your spouse. Hopefully, none of us has to reach our breaking point (or the breaking point of our marriage) to figure out what really matters most.
Decide today to make your marriage a priority — a very high priority. It will yield greater dividends than any other investment you could possibly make. And the return on that investment is something you'll be able to enjoy together — with your spouse — for a very long time!
Aaron & April are the founders of Nurturing Marriage, a website dedicated to strengthening marriages. They enjoy playing football with their two little boys, watching sports, eating cereal late at night, and going out for frozen yogurt.