Wednesday, January 07, 2009
About two years ago, in a used book store, I happened across a book that caught my attention, despite the corny title. I immediately took it home and started to devour its pages with the ferocity some reserve for romance novels. It was not the exploits of some far away love story, however, but something a little closer to home – a fascinating tale about an idea which has lost ground in these times of an uncertain economy and a changing world overall. It was a simple book about how a family built a company around their lifestyle.
All too often, lightning aspirations to reach the top in our careers will cause us to put the interests of people (who may or may not appreciate us) above those that we hold dear to our heart: our family. Knowingly or not, many of us often give up the right to experience the joys and perils of being a family in order to gain fleeting feelings of success at work.
This book (that should be in every home) tells a story from the 1970s about a husband and wife with little business aptitude. They built a bread company with a mandate: no matter how successful the company became, they would always put the priorities of the family first. In fact the family would set out on three-month vacations, leaving the day-to-day operations to others so that the parents could share – and learn – with their children the joy of being a true family.
They took the concept further by creating a system in which they hired people based on their commitment to their families more than on the likelihood that they would contribute to the company’s success. Our Daily Bread follows the rise of the Great Harvest Bread Company, a company and group of people whom I have come to admire greatly. They have revived the old concept of making healthy bread and, in so doing, ended up creating a new concept for improving the lives of the people who work there and who purchase the company’s products.
In our society, the increasing number of options in our lives (school, work, after-school commitments, TV, internet, etc.) draw families further and further apart. On average, families spend less than three hours per day engaged in truly family activities. With weak family bonds, it is all the more difficult to find the strength to adjust to common life challenges such as death, separation, and changes in jobs or homes.
The message, so beautifully illustrated by this book, is that there is a solution to this problem. First, reverse your priorities. Put the interests of your family and their activities first, even if it means cutting back on extracurricular activities. If your child has more than three after-school activities per week (soccer, music, karate, etc.) you may want to reevaluate your priorities. Use the extra time (and savings) to surprise each other: spontaneously pick your kids up from school and do something fun and healthy that the family enjoys. Take a two-or three-day vacation to a place that will build memories without breaking the bank. Take your spouse to dinner when he or she least expects it. Visit your grandparents often so that you can teach the next generation about your family’s history, and so that they are well equipped to pass it on to their children.
Finally, if you really want to be creative, start your own business where you build a family-friendly environment into the business plan. A CNN report from October 2007 indicates that more and more fathers are opting for careers that allow them to spend more quality time with their families. In our business, we often bring our son to work and encourage our co-workers to do the same. Yes, the little ones do sometimes get in the way, but how can we ever replace the time we would otherwise miss with our own child? Make the most of the short time you have on this earth, and keep in the forefront of your mind the interests of those people who will carry you when you are hurt and cry for you when you depart this finite life. Truthfully, will a corporation cry if you pass away or remember the great memories you created?