Dave Kerpen | Career Highlights Won’t Be On Your Tombstone
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Career Highlights Won’t Be On Your Tombstone

Career Highlights Won’t Be On Your Tombstone

Last Sunday morning, at 8:25 AM, I stood at Gate B5 in Memphis, Tennessee, tears streaming down my face as I watched my flight home to New York take off. I had been delayed by weather on a connecting flight from Nashville, and had arrived to the gate just two minutes after the doors had closed. So I watched the plane leave, standing there, knowing that I would be re-routed through Atlanta now and instead of getting home before noon, I wouldn’t be home until 5PM. I would miss the entire weekend with my family, and I was devastated.

I had begrudgingly accepted a business trip to Nashville even though it was a Wednesday through a Saturday because it was an excellent opportunity with an important business partner. And although weekends were typically sacred with my family, I had decided to sacrifice Daddy-daughter Saturday morning dance class this time, knowing I’d be home Sunday morning.

But when I missed that flight, I missed camp orientation, and had lost the entire weekend with my kids. I fell apart emotionally. I felt so disappointed in myself. I felt so out of control. I felt like I had made a really bad decision to not be home for a weekend. I felt like the worst dad in the world.

During the next seven hours of travel, I had a lot of time to think and reflect upon my priorities. I thought about my incredible day with the late, great Senator Frank Lautenberg, who taught me that my greatest legacy would be my children. I thought about the famous quote from John Crudele: “How do children spell LOVE? T-I-M-E.” I thought about my priorities.

It’s easy to get caught up in our hectic careers. It’s easy for men and women to become “busy” trying to advance up the ladder at work or build a successful company. It’s easy to check your email, take that meeting or call, or attend that networking event the boss invited you too. It’s all too easy to skip the family dinner in the name of helping to put dinner on the table.

Somehow, it’s more difficult at times to say “no” to our client or boss than it is to say “no” to our children. But as Senator Lautenberg taught me, your career highlights won’t be on your tombstone. Your kids’ names will be.

You’ll never regret time with your kids. You’ll never say on your deathbed, “I wish I had worked more.”

I have a lot of career goals and dreams. I want to build meaningful companies that change the world. I want to one day run for public office. I want to teach, to speak, to invest and to inspire. But I’m not willing to sacrifice weekends with my kids.

That’s my choice, and of course it’s your choice to pursue your career and your goals and dreams as vigorously as you’d like. But my hope, as we approach Father’s Day in the US, is that you’ll find it a little bit easier to say no to that next weekend conference, evening networking event, or breakfast meeting. My hope is that you’ll find it easier to say yes to the kids. Just think about that eventual deathbed or tombstone, and how you’ll feel one day looking back.

By the way, while I was devastated to miss the whole weekend with the kids, I’m proud to report that I canceled three evening work activities this week, to spend those evenings with my daughters. The week culminated in an excellent game of RISK, pictured above. And the only world I needed to take over was two little girls’ world.


Now it’s your turn. How do you balance your career with your family? How doyou determine what to say “Yes” to and what to say “No” to at work? What kind of father (or mother) do you want to be remembered as? Please let me knowyour thoughts in the Comments section below. And please do share this post with the fathers (and mothers) in YOUR network.

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