Faith and Fatherhood: Q&A with Dr. Russell Clayton

In Search of Work-Life Balance by Russell Clayton PhD
Insights on faith and fatherhood

Russell Clayton is a business school professor who wrote a book on work-life balance. He’s a friend of mine. And most importantly, he is a devoted working dad, juggling away like the rest of us. His book, In Search of Work-Life Balance offers a faith-based perspective on leading a balanced life. I think it has lessons for us all, not just those who are religious. Russell was nice enough to talk to us about his book, faith and fatherhood.

Your unique contribution in this book is lending a faith-based perspective to work-family balance. Can you explain how a faith-based approach is beneficial, and how this perspective can also apply to those who are less religious?

The faith-based approach is certainly beneficial for those who are religious. It is easy to think that God should only play a part in certain roles we hold (e.g., we volunteer at a homeless shelter). But work and family life are two big areas in which God should have a presence for the religious person. For someone who is less religious, the faith-based perspective can still be applicable. In chapter 2, I discuss the idea of us becoming selfless in our marriage and parenting roles. This stems from God’s word in Philippians 2:3-4 which instructs us to regard others as more important than ourselves and to look out for others. Whether we are the most religious or least religious person out there, this wise counsel of being selfless should be taken to heart.

I’m a lapsed Catholic myself, but “To everything there is a season” always resonated with me as a great perspective for a balanced life. What other passages speak to you on this topic?

You are certainly right about seasons (and the book of Ecclesiastes confirms that). There are a handful of passages that have convinced me that work-life balance has a biblical foundation. For example, Genesis 2:24 tells us to make our spouse a priority while Deuteronomy 6:6-7 tells us to make our children a priority. Those two passages make it clear that family should be a priority. However, God also wants to make work a priority and to do our work well. This is indicated in Ecclesiastes 9:10 where we are told to work “with all [our] might…” Back to your point about seasons….there are certainly seasons of work where we will have to put in a crazy amount of hours. For you and me, that might be the end of a semester when all of the final projects and papers are rolling in. However, this is just a season and working a 65-hour week shouldn’t be the norm.

Beyond a faith and fatherhood perspective, you offer practical advice on time management, career planning and even exercise. Can you share a few helpful suggestions from these areas?

I believe one of the most helpful pieces of advice related to career management is that of downshifting, which you covered very well in The Working Dad’s Survival Guide. One way to downshift is to intentionally plateau your career. This does not mean that you avoid all promotion opportunities. However, you take yourself off of the fast-track to the executive position or perhaps you negotiate to make your job a 75% job (e.g., working 30 hours/week) instead of the typical full-time job. These strategic moves can come with a financial loss (either immediately cutting salary or foregoing a larger salary in the future) but the idea is that it frees us up to be more available for our spouse and/or children.

Two big time management tips I love are to “say no” more often and to outsource. Both of these have made a big difference in my life. The first tip, say no, is a bit scary to some. Many of us believe we must say “yes” to every opportunity presented to us (and I have believed this in the past). I was afraid to say “no” because I thought I’d offend the person asking or that it would hurt my career. What I have found is that saying “no” allows me to focus my attention on a few projects and to do those really well and to also leave the office on time so that I can spend time with my family. I call this being strategically selfish.  It sounds counterintuitive for a faith-based book to tell someone to be selfish like this…but doing so allows me to actually do a better job for my employer. The caveat is to figure out what tasks are non-negotiable at your work and what tasks can be declined. You certainly do not want to say “no” to something that is a core part of your job.

I have also found outsourcing to be beneficial. This requires a little bit of financial sacrifice, but it is worth it in many cases. In my book I tell the story of Don, who outsourced his lawn care to a professional landscape company. I decided to take my own medicine and it has been incredible. In Florida we have to mow our lawns every week for about 6-7 months out of the year. I was spending 3 hours each Saturday mowing my lawn and then I decided to hire a lawn service. Now I get to spend Saturday mornings with my daughters- which is awesome!

You discuss the concept of “expanding your circle of empathy.” Can you describe what this means and how it can help us lead a more balanced life?

I first read about “expanding your circle of empathy” in Jessica Stillman’s Inc. article written a few years ago. Empathy is the ol’ “put yourself in their shoes” idea and it is a great way to gain perspective. Expanding the circle of empathy forces us to stretch our minds a bit because it asks us to try to see the viewpoint of someone with (what is likely) an opposing viewpoint. This does not mean we have to agree with that opposing viewpoint. But it does force us to do a little bit of brain gymnastics that may help us think of alternate ways of viewing a situation.

For example, an entry level worker can certainly empathize with another entry level worker’s long work hours. However, if the entry level worker wants to expand his/her circle of empathy then he/she might try to understand why the executives want the entry level workers to work so many hours. This might help the entry level worker understand the motivation of why the boss wants him/her to work so many hours. This, in turn, might help the entry level worker be a better negotiator when trying to ask for fewer work hours or weekends off, etc…

One theme in your book is the temptations offered by materialism and career ambitions that become untethered from one’s priorities. What are some ways to resist these forces?

One of the best ways to avoid being caught up in materialism and working long hours to support that habit is to remember 1st Timothy 6:10. I love this passage because it tells us that money is NOT evil…rather it is the love of money that is the root of evil. There is nothing wrong with earning money…and earning a lot of it. But when making money consumes our thoughts and leads us to working long hours or multiple jobs in the pursuit of more “things” then we have a problem. Another good reminder comes from Ecclesiastes 5:10 which tells us that those who love money will never be satisfied with how much money they have.

Finally, you end the book be encouraging readers to set goals around their priorities, including faith and fatherhood. How do you recommend people go about setting and the following-through on their goals.

One of the best ways to achieve goals is to set appropriate goals. The way I do this is by setting QIK goals — Quantifiable, Implementable, and Known. Quantifiable goals are simply those that can have a numerical value placed on them. The goal to “leave work on time” is a bit vague. However, the goal to “leave work by 4:30pm each weekday” is measurable. Either you did or did not leave at 4:30pm.

Implementable goals are those that can be achieved without taking drastic action. For example, the goal to “cut my household spending by 50%” would likely take some major action on the part of that household…and likely would not lead to long-term success in cutting the household budget. On the other hand, “cutting the household budget by 5%” is more realistic and likely something that can be implemented. This might be as simple as cutting off the cable TV service. Sure, going without cable is a big deal for a media-driven society….but that is something that can actually be implemented and adjusted to.

Making goals known is the final step. Research shows that when we tell someone we are going to do something (i.e., our quantifiable and implementable goal) we are more likely to follow through with it.

What do you think about faith and fatherhood? Any experiences to share? Let’s discuss in the comments.

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