The Burden of Responsibility

Slow Starts

I experienced a heavy morning recently. Going through my routine, I was very aware of some big challenges ahead of me.  Besides family responsibilities and work, I was thinking about an email from a teacher at the school and a call scheduled with a group I volunteer with to discuss some big decisions, impacting many people. I was feeling anxious and apprehensive about the day ahead.

I often experience these mornings and have for a long time. In some ways, they are unavoidable. When you have responsibilities, both at home and outside the home, challenges are going to come up. I am susceptible to having my days derailed by an early morning email, read before getting out of bed. I know the experience of rushing through the morning and being dismissive of anything happening at home and justifying it because of work responsibilities.

On those mornings, I can catch myself wishing things were easier, or questioning what I ‘signed up for’.

Ambition

As a younger man early in my marriage and career, I aspired to ‘greater’ things.  To me that meant a successful career and hopes of having a family.  I had a vision of who I wanted to be: A leader.  Someone that people respect and admire.  Part of this is because I saw myself as a leader in the making.  If I am honest, it is more likely that I wanted the status or perceived privilege.  For my friends and family to see me as a success and to provide validation of who I am.

It is often the case that the areas of strength in our lives become warped into blind spots or weaknesses.

I will never forget the day I was promoted to Vice President at the company I was working for. As my soon-to-be former boss is telling me that he is leaving (along with most of the leadership team) and that I am to replace him, a feeling rises in my gut. RUN!

The moment feels like an avalanche of demand and responsibility bearing down on me while my guides hop in a helicopter to head for safety. I am so underprepared for this.  Like a toddler learning to walk, I wobble into my first real leadership position.  There are some falls and I am humbled.  My team looks to me for answers and I am often left scrambling.  It is not what I imagined life as the boss would feel like.  

Each of these moments teaches me something.  I realize that mistakes are going to happen, but they provide opportunities for growth.  Every time I fall, the getting back up builds resilience.  The pressure of the job does not ease, but I find myself able to keep going.

Two years in this environment provides excellent lessons on leadership in the workplace.  One of the first I learned: if you are seeking leadership for the glory, then you are in for a shock (and probably not ready to be a leader).

This experience prepared me to do what I do now.  Looking back at it, I see how I was fathered through it by other people in my life and by God. It is during this time that deeper faith takes root in me.

I begin to understand that it is only through reliance on God and surrendering the idea that I am in charge, that I can bear the weight. Though this is not the first time I faced adversity in my career, it is the first time I experienced it as the leader. There are some lessons learned only by walking through fire.

Family Matters

Corporate leadership lessons are valuable, but they pale in comparison to those learned by facing the challenges of being a father and husband. I recall a friend telling me when my first child was born, “Being a dad is the best and hardest thing you’ll ever do”. I cannot think of a better way to describe fatherhood.

Trials arise all the time in family life and some of them are heavier than others. One of the kids is struggling with something at school or my wife wants to talk to me about something I do not want to talk about.  Sometimes it is when I walk in the room and get a feeling of ‘uh-oh, something is up’.  Like the day I was promoted at work, there are times when the weight of the situation brings the urge to run. Not away from my house or the people in it but to retreat inside myself.  It can be easier to ignore what is going on than to have a tough conversation and face what the situation is demanding of me.

In these moments, I am presented with a choice.  To step into the difficulty and face the unknown or to bury my head in the sand and hope it all goes away.  I wish I could say that I always choose to face these challenges, but there have been many times that I have not.  Looking back, engaging in the hardest moments has taught me the most about being a man for my family.

The Payoff

I realize that up to this point I may be giving the impression that my life is a series of duties and responsibilities.  It may sound like a burdensome existence.

I do have responsibilities at home, at work, and in the volunteer activities that I take part in.  And yes, sometimes those responsibilities can weigh on me. There are times when a part of me would prefer a simpler life.  A life with less problems, less responsibility, and less stress.  But that life would require less of a man, and I am not interested in less.

Recall what my friend said about fatherhood: it is the best and hardest thing you will ever do. What makes the ‘hardest’ worthwhile is the ‘best’. In those moments of, “Why Bother?”, it does not take much to answer the question.

It is in the quiet moments reconnecting with my wife after a difficult talk. It is the look on my son’s face after he has navigated something difficult and I express my pride in him.  Or when my daughter beams talking about the fancy date we went on.  When I look at who I am today compared to ten years ago, I realize I am blessed with so much.  The responsibility that comes along with it is worth it – it’s not even close.

Standing Tall

Life brings responsibility and stress – it is inevitable. As we learn to handle it and navigate it, we find that some of life’s richest moments come from saying yes to what is being asked of us, even when the asks seem like tall orders.

The temptation to think we have to bear the burdens of life alone is real. In the end, though, it is one of the greatest lies we can tell ourselves. By sharing our burdens with others, we can often find support and solidarity. Even if looking from right to left yields nothing, we can always look up.

There is no greater support than that which comes from trusting our difficulties to God.  Jesus says “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). These words bring life in times of struggle.  Though reading them may not reduce the size of the challenge in front of me, they always give me strength to keep going.

It is easy, particularly in the midst of heavy moments, to see responsibility as a burden. Something to endure or to seek relief from. Often it can be difficult and can cause us to buckle under the pressure if we try to carry it alone. If we are willing to ask for help, however, we can persevere. We can choose to see responsibility as a gift. In doing so, we access growth, fruitfulness, and joy we would otherwise have never known.

-Sean

Log Pile Photo by Alessio Furlan on Unsplash

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