A Worse Job At Everything…

Conference this past weekend (and the lengthy list I made during it of all the ways I need to change) got me thinking about a conversation I had with a recent law school grad in our ward who was studying for the bar this summer. He’d been complaining to me about having no time and had asked me how I went about trying to balance family, work, Church, and the constraints of the billable hour. I laughed and told him I was the wrong person to ask; that I was barely managing the demands of work with a relatively easy child, an incredibly accommodating wife, and a pretty low-key Church calling. I joked that we should be asking the High Priest sitting next to us, who is a partner at a high-powered D.C. law firm who has five kids under the age of 14 and formerly served in a Bishopric, among other demanding callings. Upon overhearing this exchange, this partner turned to us and said that, in truth, there wasn’t any secret to it. You just did what you had to do and ended up doing a “worse job at everything as a result.” This quip actually strikes me as having a lot of truth to it, but as I’ve been pondering the various conference talks I heard, I’ve also decided that getting stretched like this is probably my only chance at making any headway on that list I threw together. So much for finding balance…

25 comments for “A Worse Job At Everything…

  1. Ken
    October 9, 2008 at 8:15 am

    Maybe you should have gone to medical school. At least then you would be doing something good for humanity. Ha Ha

  2. Marc Bohn
    October 9, 2008 at 8:26 am


  3. Jonathan Green
    October 9, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Yeah, Marc. If one were to simply fail, that would be one thing, and people might sympathize. But with the competing demands of family, work, and sometimes a time-intensive church calling as well, it’s easy for everyone to identify the reasons why you’re failing.

  4. Anon for this one
    October 9, 2008 at 10:31 am

    All due respect, how the %**% do people who \”do a worse job at everything\” become partner and Bishop? My husband is having a heck of a time at his law firm, we\’re still saving up enough so that I can quit and stay home with the kids when they come, and we both have low-key Church callings (that, admittedly, we\’re pretty faithful to).

    I always get a bit upset when I hear stories about people who are \”blessed\” like this despite being incompetent. It\’s like the RM who told me in college how he\’d prayed really hard and fasted about an exam, and despite not studying, he got an A. I went to Church too and I actually *studied*, but I didn\’t do as well on the same exam. Am I supposed to be inspired? It\’s one thing to appreciate the Lord saving people from cancer or whatever, but I\’m not exactly thrilled to hear about people who seem to \”have it all\” and then readily admit to working half as hard as I have. ;(

  5. Marc Bohn
    October 9, 2008 at 10:39 am

    Trust me, this member of my ward is not incompetent. In fact, he’s probably one of the more competent people I know. His “worse job at everything” would probably be seen as pretty stellar by most. It comes down to an issue of time though. Someone like him probably puts in between 60 and 70 hours at work in an average week. If you have five kids and are a member of a bishopric on top of that, something has got to be giving somewhere.

  6. fred
    October 9, 2008 at 10:53 am

    Don\’t you mormons believe that family is the be-all, end-all. Aren\’t you hypocrites by choosing an occupation where you spend 60-70 hours/week away from your family and \’volunteering\’ for chruch callings that may take another 40 hours+ from your family?

  7. The Right Trousers
    October 9, 2008 at 11:28 am

    And that, friends, is a prime example of “hasty generalization”. Thank you, fred.

  8. Jay S
    October 9, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Isn’t being stretched the point? Not to stretch a point too far, but in the recent conference it was elder Eyring (?)’s talk about our responsibilities. We often think, when I get a little older it will be easier (like the recent law grad), but it is not. We were told that with the Lord’s power all things are possible. But to do this we need to stretch. We stretch to the point where we feel like we have no more to give. And then we can. Like muscle capacity comes from breaking down our muscles and then rebuilding them, our spiritual capacity grows by stretching almost to the point of breaking.

    To anon for this. I am not sure if your comment was implying that Bishop was an achievement. If so, I would point you to Elder Eyring and Elder Uchdorf’s recent addresses in Conference. I can understand that things are frustrating, when we work hard and aren’t rewarded for it. I have been on both sides. I have worked really hard and been passed over. I have not done much of anything to prepare for a class or a project (as I did mostly in HS) and yet still got A’s on tests or good review for projects. It is just the breaks. I have found that I am happier and perform better when I am grateful for all that I do have. I have a lot of things that i take for granted that were almost unheard of by many families on my misison (and I served in ths US, when we extend the comparison to those familes in Brasil, Peru and other areas it becomes even more clear). I got to go to school. I got to go to college. I have always had enough clothes. I have never gone hungry (except by choice – darn you fast sunday). I can read. I have a computer. I have healthy children. I know who my parents are. I was not beaten as a child. i did not have to work at age 12 in a factory. I have access to medical care. I have a steady paycheck. I have the gospel in my life. I have access to clean water not more than 50 feet away. I have a bed, a roof and air conditioning. I have TWO cars (which is often not a blessing).

    All of which means my responsibility to serve others and to give back is that much greater. I have to get up early and go to bed late to work, and have time for my kids, and my church responsibilities. and I agree with the sentiment you just do worse at everything. But life isnt about perfection. It is about learning how to become like Christ, and be perfected as a result.

  9. Anon for this one
    October 9, 2008 at 11:53 am

    #5 Oh, if this was one of those humble, “Aw shucks, I just do my best” sort of things, then I understand. I stand by my earlier comments, but I can see that I might have misinterpreted the situation you described.

  10. October 9, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    It didn’t have to be an “Aw shucks” kind of answer. Quite simply, if he (or you or I) have three or four things pulling us in different directions, we do worse at at least one of those things than we otherwise do. That doesn’t mean, for example, that I’m incompetent at my job. I’m actually pretty decent at what I do. But I also go home to spend time with my wife and my daughters and I don’t work Sundays. If I didn’t have a family to spend time with and I didn’t take Sundays off, I could undoubtedly be a more productive and probably even better attorney than I am. Likewise, if I didn’t have a family and job, I could spend all day at the temple and preparing my Primary lessons. Etc. There will always be a give and take; the trick (I think) is accepting something less than perfection and figuring out how to allocate time, talents, and money.

  11. Peter LLC
    October 9, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Just as a gas fills whatever container it is in, so too does what we do occupy whatever time we have available. Neat how that works.

  12. October 9, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    A question I’ve been asking myself, too. (Ahem, I found out this morning that **I passed the bar**). I guess the secret is an accommodating spouse… and knowing that I will never be called as bishop, high counselor, or stake president. And probably not any other kind of president, either…

  13. Marc Bohn
    October 9, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    To lump several responses here into one. I do think that “being stretched” is part of the point, but I think there is a definite tension here. I think in some ways it boils down to Elder Oaks talk last year on the good, better and best. But often we’re dealing with competing better or bests, and I think managing the various obligations which are tearing us in different directions can be pretty tricky. Dealing with this tension means you end up making choices that affect how well you perform in your callings, in your work, and as a parent. I think it’s hard for a demanding position within the Church not to take a toll on your family. Sure you can find ways to be more efficient at work (depending on your job), and you can try to structure your time at home to minimize scheduling conflicts, but in the end it’s that much less time and energy you have for your family. That time has to come from somewhere, whether it be work, family or sleep. I’ve certainly heard a lot of Bishops talk about situations where they had to put their families ahead of some need of their ward, but I think these often end up being excruciatingly tough calls for many of them. One always has the option of trying to find a job that’s more accommodating, but this can bring with it its own set of challenges and difficulties. In the end, I think during those times when we have to juggle these sorts of competing demands, the partner in my ward was right, we do end up dropping the ball a little somewhere, whether it be with our health, family, work or calling. The hope, of course, is that we make our decisions during these times prayerfully and that God helps to alleviate the consequences where we fall short. My personal hope is that when I end up falling short, it’s more often than not at work or in my calling than with my family.

  14. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    October 9, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    When I was with the Salt lake office of a law firm headquartered in Philadelphia, a new Managing partner for the firm was appointed. The guy was legendary for not needing more than a couple of hours sleep per day. He had two full shifts of two legal secretaries each, and literally did twice as much work per day as anyone else. As Managing Partner, he was able to devote half his time (a full day) to firm business while maintaining a full day’s worth of billable hours.

    All of the attorneys in the Salt Lake office thought he was crazy.

    Law practice in a firm is one of those jobs that can consume every hour of your life if you let it. And many large firms are more than happy to have you do that. They expect new associate attorneys to devote routinely 80 hours a week to the office, in order to reach the number of billable hours during a year (at least 2000) that will justify the ridiculous starting salaries, which are often paying over $125,000 a year to people just out of law school. I am glad I did not go through that process. I was a JAG, a military lawyer for the last 15 years of my 20 in the Air Force.

    Not that there were not some major time demands in that job. That was especially true if you were deployed to a war zone, a military exercise, or a remote location overseas, so that you could be separated from your family for a year at a time. During the last 9 years of my military career, I was on trips two out of three weeks, doing oversight and support to military bases all over the country. Covering facilities from the Eastern time Zone to the one that covers Guam (same as Japan) makes ofr some long days. Sometimes I was in an undisclosed location so that my wife had to leave a message if she needed to have me call home.

    On the other hand, there were times when we had family crises when the military went far beyond most civilian employers in accomodating us. That was true when my wife was in the hospital an hour away for over a month, trying to forestall the birth of our twins so they would not be premature. When we were in Japan and my wife’s sister developed liver cancer, we were able to fly back to the States basically free for what turned out to be a funeral.

    One of the commanding generals we had at Strategic Air Command insisted that someone be in every office on saturday mornings, when he was overworking himself. His successor stopped that. He told us that if we couldn’t get our jobs done in a normal week (most of the time), then we were either overworked or using our time poorly.

    Since you have to juggle work and family, as well as one’s own need for health and recreation (including mental recreation), along with personal spiritual nourishment and service to the Church community, there are always competing demands. I clearly could not stand working at a job that did not stimulate me intellectually (I did that a few times during my college years, and it was sheer torture). You need to consider creating a family life that will have positive feedback that will sustain the energies you put into it. Church callings that you can’t develop interest in, despite sincere efforts, have a tendency most times to take care of themselves.

    Prioritization involves, not just a for all time 1, 2, 3 ordering, but an hour-by-hour ordering. An we don’t prioritize “work”, “family” and “Church”, but individual and specific tasks in those categories. Within each category, there are priorities, and we have to be ready to sacrifice lower priority work activities for higher priority ones. The same within family or Church categories. Competition between one specific family activity and a specific work acitivity makes it more complicated. And of course, as much as we tend to place work and family in opposition, the fact is that a primary reason we pick the kind of work we do is so we can support our families, with money and benefits and opportunities. One of the great things for my family was when we spent three years in Japan. While we moved around the country with my work, it was also a blessing to experience various parts of the country, such as Washington, DC. We were fortunate in that my work allowed me to support our family so my wife did not have to work, and could be home with our kids. That is a direct benefit to the family of my working in jobs that demanded a lot of my time.

    I would not describe the balancing that this entails as “doing everything less well.” In engineering, the overall performance of a process or system, such as a car, is a matter of balancing aspects, rather than trying to maximize one at the expense of the others. When one has a steady job, regular and meaningful family time, and an opportunity to worship and serve in Church, the overall output is happiness and satisfaction. The optimal happiness comes not from maximizing any one aspect, but balancing all of them so as to maximize happiness. I don’t care if I am the highest paid person in my company, or the most powerful, or the most famous. What I want is to maximize my personal happiness, and that means I can give up some opportunities to maximize work achievement in order to gain more happiness from family relationships and Church service. Happiness is not from being a universal super-achievewr, but from finding a balance that makes you the happiest you can be within the constraints of education, health, intelligence, and talent.

    Personally, I think there are some career paths that do not allow a balance that supports happiness. Jane Clayson Johnson decided that the news business was that kind of a thing for her. I don’t think Mormons need to feel a duty to have equal representation in all the big name law firms, or in certain medical specialties, no matter how much money and honor the world is willing to bestow on those jobs.

  15. ed42
    October 10, 2008 at 12:24 am

    “Isn’t being stretched the point?” With a 24 hour day there is no stretching. Either you are there for your child/spouse or you are earning ‘dirty lucre’ or you are performing a church duty (or playing) Generally it’s the family relationships that are sacrificed – A Bishop that spends 40+ hours per week tending to the needs of the ‘flock’ can’t spend those 40 hours with his family. I don’t buy the “spend quality time” argument.

  16. Ray
    October 10, 2008 at 9:47 am

    I can relate to the “worse job at everything” comment – as long as it’s kept in perspective. “Finding a balance” implies that something has to give in some or all areas to achieve a balance.

    Doing a “worse job at everything” simply means to me that you would do better at each thing if you spent more time doing it. I agree with that completely. If the object of my existence was to find one thing and do it the absolute best way possible, I either would be single or unemployed – agnostic/atheist or a monk – etc. I wouldn’t try to “find a balance”, but rather I would “find my one true calling in life”.

    #7 – Great response.

  17. Ellis
    October 12, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Whatever happened not not running any faster than one has strength? If a persons doesn’t have strength to give his/her best to whatever task it is at hand then isn’t he/she running too fast?

  18. Naismith
    October 12, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    My stake president also preaches this notion. He specifically says that we should decide how much time to spend on church callings, work, etc. and then focus and work hard and smart during that time, then trust to the Lord to make up the difference, and help us to know what cannot be delayed. He is quite concerned about leaders stealing time from their families, and interviews spouses about this issue.

    For us, we were blessed that the part that went has been housework rather than parenting. We hire a cleaner, and will hire a yard person when there are no longer enough young hands to do that.

    My husband would like to do a fair share of the cleaning, dishes, cooking, etc. but realistically with his job and callings, it ain’t gonna happen. So we hire help rather than have me overburdened.

    I’d rather have him reading with the kids than cleaning.

    As for the “not running” issue, it’s a good point. But we have the gift of the Holy Ghost to help us decide what we should be doing. Lots of times, it seems like trying to run too fast, but if we know that it’s what we should be doing, somehow things generally work out.

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  20. Marc Bohn
    October 14, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    I must admit, you make a compelling point Sandra.

  21. Preston
    October 15, 2008 at 2:04 am

    An attorney (and client) and long time friend I respect, and who has been general counsel of a substantial public company with an international presence, once commented on this topic over lunch. He said there were only two attorneys he knew personally who kept work, Church and family in appropriate balance. He named and described them. They both worked in government legal positions.

    I’d always thought I’d done a pretty good job of keeping things in balance. So, I courageous asked him “what about me??” His response was immediate and sincere. “You? Oh, you get honorable mention.” We both laughed. Yet I knew he knew me well.

    I have done well professionally, and served in several time consuming Church callings. I have a good marriage and all the kids are “on the path” (which probably says more about their mother than their father). But over the years, I’ve reflected frequently about what he said. I don’t think I’ve done as well as I ought to have. Just exactly where does honorable mention place me in matters of family balance? And when I think of that some words of Presidents Mckay and Lee always haunt my mind.

  22. John Buffington
    October 16, 2008 at 8:16 am


    (I am assuming you are the Preston I know)

    I giggled when I read of you keeping things in balance, and you sent this comment in at 2:04 am.

    This has been a massive struggle for me; all of our competing interests want us to be fully vested, and yet it is not possible. “For either a man will….”

    When my older kids got “off the path”, I realized that I was not even an honorable mention.

    Quite the optimization problem, since the objective function is measured differently by our families than by our church peers than by our employers. I think the constraints are quite identifiable, however

  23. sunnankar
    October 26, 2008 at 1:21 am

    Marc, I think the critical issue is being able to find the philosophy that drives you. One’s career or daily work should be a natural extension of carrying out that philosophy. I have noticed throughout my career that the few people who are rooted in the philosophy that drives them are much happier. I suppose it has to do with accomplishing the unique work each of us is given. Sadly, many people never do seem to find the philosophy that drives them. I think a lot of people, from the receptionist, garbage man, postal worker to the high powered CEOs, accountants, doctors, lawyers, etc. who spend their days toiling away often do it to escape having to answer that question which acts like a sliver in their minds. When you are solidly focused on the philosophy that drives you extemporaneous activities seem to just melt away from your attention.

    I suppose an easy test to see whether someone is carrying out the philosophy that drives them is to honestly answer the rhetorical question: Would my daily activities change if money were of no concern?

  24. Kent M
    November 16, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    I’m surprised that no one referenced the old golf saying – Anyone with a really low handicap is leaving something important undone…

    We see it all through a glass darkly. No matter how much I do, there will always be something I didn’t get to or something I didn’t do well enough. So I ask myself, what will my perspective be in a hundred years?

    The question becomes – How can I best do what is in me to do? I’ll never get it all right. So how can I get enough right that I can be happy to take with me the only things we can take with us when we leave mortality – memories and relationships… and a single digit handicap.

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