I recently wrote a short article for The Good Men Project on why I took a break from my professional PR work to be a stay at home dad for our baby daughter. While the article addressed mostly the personal side of my decision, there were some professional considerations and lessons I thought might be worth sharing as well for those who are having a hard time achieving balance in their personal/professional lives.
Push yourself away from the table when you’re full:
All of my mentors — male, female, academic, professional, personal or spiritual — took extended “breaks” from their work throughout their careers. All of them worked in different fields, but common among them was how they achieved balance by changing lanes every now and then.
The late Dr. Hal Shavers, former dean of the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Marshall University, would leave the professional PR world for years at a time to teach. He’d return to the business side a few years later – refreshed, energized and with new perspectives. I asked him why he continued to disrupt his momentum like that. His answer was simply that he never gave himself a chance to burn out in any one place.
You are not as indispensable a cog as you might think you are:
We all like to think we’re an indispensable asset to our organizations. Of course you are! You are the creative spark that powers all things. You are the catalyst for all innovation. Why, without you, how could the business survive?! You can’t take that vacation… You can’t take that sabbatical… You CAN’T take time off to spend with your family!
Uh oh, bad news: You aren’t indispensable. There are dozens of smart people just like you who can step up and fill in your place and the world will continue to turn… But that is NOT a bad thing – it is merely a humbling truth. Accept it gracefully. People will know you for it and appreciate it. As my old speech and dramatics coach used to say, “Leave the stage while the audience is still clapping. There’s another act that follows you.” The world will still be there turning for you if you ever want to go back.
Get back in tune with the world:
The tactics of public relations will continue to evolve as different media and methods to communicate manifest themselves over time. But the basic block and tackle function remains the same: fostering dialogue among organizations or peoples. That is what we do. And you cannot effectively conduct the business of public relations without being able to relate to your publics.
Over the past year that I have been staying home, I may have lost some of the bubble on emerging trends in PR, communications and social media tools and tactics. But I have spent more time in shopping malls, grocery stores, doctor’s officers, etc., talking to and RELATING to people more than I have in many years. Every day is a new focus group I get to explore. If/when the time comes that I return to the professional PR world, I will have a new database of experiences and knowledge to draw upon. You can’t get that when you’re sitting in a conference room full of like-minded professionals. You can’t get that reading the market research reports. You have to return to your roots and experience it from time to time.
I was fortunate to have some great mentors along the way. They weren’t just great for their body of knowledge or how they conducted themselves from a business standpoint, but how they led by example in achieving balance in their lives. As one told me, “You have to have priorities and you have to have principles. Hold true to both and you’ll be okay.”
Paul Swiergosz is a retired Army officer with over 15 years of government public affairs experience. He holds an M.A in Public Relations from Marshall University and a B.S. in Public Relations from Bowling Green State University. He is currently on sabbatical in Charleston, S.C., enjoying his new role as a stay at home dad with daughter Poppy.