How to invest in the things that matter the most?

If you’re a high achiever, you may feel that the effort you put into your job is what’s most rewarding in your life.

However, the effort you dedicate to family life also brings valuable rewards. It’s just that these may not reveal themselves for many years. Unfortunately, underinvestment in these longer-term issues will ultimately prevent them from flourishing.

What a relationship needs most is consistent attention and care. This can be difficult to provide, and the reasons are twofold.

First, we are always tempted to invest our resources into a task with an immediate payoff, namely, our job. A spare 30 minutes after work could easily be spent as family time. But often the people and projects at work that demand your attention, as well as the promise of making money, can quickly banish thoughts of your family from your mind.

Second, those with whom you share a deep relationship – family members, friends – rarely shout the loudest when demanding your attention. Instead, they’re likely to support your career without complaint. But remember: just because they don’t ask for your time, doesn’t mean that they don’t need it.

In a sense, relationships reflect a paradox. They require consistent dedication even when it appears unnecessary. Many seem to think that they can compensate for neglecting their loved ones by showing greater care later on.

However, damage done to a family in its early stages will manifest as problems later on. For example, research shows that the most influential period in the development of a child’s intelligence is within the first year, so the way parents speak to their child at this stage will shape their life as a thinker.

Finally, it’s not just your family that needs you; at some point, you will depend on them. If you neglect these relationships now, you run the risk of losing support when you need it the most.

Often companies seem to focus so intently on selling a product that they lose sight of the real needs of the customer. Unfortunately, many people approach relationships the same way.

Whether your family or your business, your real job should always be to understand and fulfil the needs of others.

This job is by no means easy. There are two tools that can help you: intuition and empathy. A marriage works when each spouse understands what is expected of him or her. Using empathy and intuition to grasp these expectations, however, takes practice.

For example, a man comes home from work one day to find a mess in the kitchen. Intuitively assuming that his wife has had a rough day, he decides to tidy up. Expecting to be thanked, he instead is surprised to find his wife upset.

She tells her husband that caring for two demanding children is incredibly difficult, as she is unable to speak to another adult all day. What she needed most was simply for her husband to listen to her.

In this case, the husband’s initial intuition was off the mark. But through this experience, he’ll better know how to be more sensitive to his wife’s needs in the future.

Another way to improve your relationship is if you think about it as a job. A key question to consider is, “What job does my family, friend or partner require me to do the most?”

The Swedish home furnishings company IKEA can provide us with an example. What its customers need is to quickly and inexpensively furnish their homes. The company’s job is then to satisfy this need effectively. This is why the company doesn’t sell a specific kind of furniture: its job is more general.

Because their needs are being met, IKEA customers remain loyal. The same goes for relationships: if you understand and fulfil the job required of you by your loved ones, they will remain loyal to you.

Of all the jobs you have in life, one of the most important is educating your children. This does not simply mean teaching them all there is to know, but rather, giving them the tools to teach themselves.

The best way for children to develop their own values is by allowing them to face challenges and find solutions independently. Such challenges could include learning to work with a problematic teacher, struggling with a new sport or negotiating cliques or bullies at school.

By introducing children to everyday problems early on, their self-esteem will develop in a healthy way. You may be reluctant for your children to pursue goals on their own, or attempt to prevent them from making mistakes. However, don’t be afraid to let them fail. It is far more important that a parent is there to provide support when children make mistakes, from which they can then grow and learn.

Another vital aspect of parenthood is the implementation of a healthy family culture. The foundation of this is family values, an informal but highly influential system of guidelines that will equip your children for any challenge they face, even as adults.

In creating a family culture, it helps to think of it like an autopilot. Once programmed, it is perfectly capable of running itself.

Let’s say you want your family to be known for kindness. You can help program this value by taking every opportunity to emphasise its importance. Such an opportunity could be as simple as a conversation with your child about schoolyard bullying, or praising your child when he demonstrates compassion. In this way, kindness will be at the core of your family culture.

It’s easy to slip into the mind-set that raising children is centred on controlling bad behavior. This negative approach is in fact far less effective than a perspective that celebrates the good of your family in everyday interactions. The set of values that emerge as a result will be firmly established, and able to weather any challenge.

What does it mean to live your life with integrity? It’s not only about our choices when faced with a dramatic moral challenge.

Rather, integrity emerges from the decisions we make every day. In this way, integrity requires constant self-awareness.

We must remain aware of the trap of marginal thinking. This danger can be illustrated through the example of DVD rental company Blockbuster. Blockbuster was aware of its rival Netflix, an innovative online movie rental company, but dismissed the company as non-threatening and certainly no reason to expand its business strategy to DVD rentals by post in response.

But, while Blockbuster did nothing, Netflix crushed its competitors; so much so that Blockbuster declared bankruptcy in 2010. Though the company avoided paying the marginal costs of matching Netflix’s innovative business model, Blockbuster paid the ultimate cost for mismanagement, which was business failure.

Now you know that focusing on marginal costs when faced with commercial decisions can prove disastrous. This marginal thinking becomes even more dangerous when the moral behavior of a person comes into play. In such cases, it is absolutely crucial that we don’t make ill-considered decisions as individuals, no matter the situation.

Have you ever made a decision that went against what you believe, but justified it as something you’d only do “just this once?” Here’s an example of how harmful these exceptions can be.

Nick Leeson was a stock trader whose marginal thinking led to the downfall of Barings, a British merchant bank. After incurring a loss on some trades he had managed, he decided that “just this once” he would hide the loss in an unmonitored trading account.

This led to more marginal thinking as Leeson attempted to cover his increasingly irresponsible actions, and soon snowballed into forging documents and conning auditors, eventually resulting in a loss of $1.3 billion. Leeson was arrested and sent to jail; and Barings, after declaring bankruptcy, was sold to a competitor for just one pound sterling.

The most successful professionals are those who invest their resources not just into work, but into their family and lifestyle. By taking responsibility for the jobs that are required of us outside the workplace, such as raising our children, supporting a spouse or leading our own lives with integrity, we can achieve the work/life balance that we aspire to. Only then can we achieve true happiness.

So try this. Don’t be afraid to let your kids solve problems for themselves! You probably only have your children’s best interests in mind when you give them what they want. The fact is, they need to be challenged, perhaps through learning a musical instrument, grappling with a new sport or developing social skills. This will give them problems to solve, teaching them values, and providing experiences for them to be engaged in.

Check out my related post: How to tell when it’s time to retire?

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