What Matters Most? How Caregiving Reveals The Answer

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How do we identify and act upon what matters most in life? As I mentioned in last week’s post, recently I heard Anne-Marie Slaughter speak about her book Unfinished Business and what it means to balance (or not) work and life in a caring economy. There was something else Slaughter talked about that I have been eager to discuss here. (But I was too busy at work to write before now – oh, the irony!)

Slaughter may be best known for her 2012 Atlantic article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” which she wrote after leaving a position at the State Department so she could be more available to her family. She spoke a bit about that experience last week and what she learned from it, and she referred to the time after she left Washington as her time “in the pause.” And it was in the pause, she said, that she was able to focus on what matters most.

Identifying What Matters Most

Caregiving gives us pause. It may not feel like that when we are in the thick of it, juggling aging parents, career, and maybe kids too. But if you think about it, in the middle of all the craziness and activity that comes with being a working daughter – there’s usually a stillness too. Caregiving can be so relentless, so intense, that it forces us to surrender. Maybe we surrender to the fact we can’t do it all. Maybe we surrender to the fact that death is a part of life. Maybe we surrender to the fact we can’t pursue our career full force, for a while any way. Maybe we surrender to the fact that family comes first. Or maybe we surrender to the fact we are done with our family and with relationships that don’t serve us. It’s different for everyone, but most caregivers I know eventually surrender to something, and in surrender we pause.

For me, I paused in the traditional sense when both of my parents were ill. My mother was given three months to live and I wanted to be available to her to help her face the end of her life. At the same time, my father was told he could never move home due to a dementia diagnosis, and that his wife of 50 years was dying. He needed my help. I surrendered to the fact that not only could I not work a full schedule, I could not perform the job I was hired to do. Months later, when I did return to a full work schedule and my original role at work, I paused in a more figurative sense when I examined how to continue to excel at work but still make time for what matters most to me. Because after sitting with my mother when she died, and a few months later, with my aunt when she died, after watching my father face his new reality, I had a new clarity about what matters most, and it wasn’t what was happening at the office.

I still need to earn a paycheck. That hasn’t changed. And I still love a strategic and creative assignment. I love when I can add value to my clients and coworkers. But my perspective has changed. That work is a means to an end – not the end goal. As a result of this clarity, I can no longer sacrifice what matters most for what matters most to others. I no longer live to work. I work to live.

Caregiving is a career asset

This new perspective is a gift – truly. To identify what matters most while you still have a life to live is one of the hard-earned rewards of caregiving. It’s priceless really. The challenge, is for others, especially managers and coworkers, to also see your new perspective as a gift.

Slaughter pointed out that the conventional thinking is that when a worker steps out of the workforce to care for someone they lose skills and ground. So many of us as caregivers have bought into that thinking because we’ve heard it repeated so many times. But that isn’t necessarily true. Slaughter also said referring to her personal pause, “I am a much better manager because I am a mother.” And I know I bring more compassion and creativity to my job because I am a working mother and a working daughter. The rub of course is getting our employers to see that caregiving is a career asset, not a hindrance. But whether they do or not, know this working daughter: what you learned and heard in your pause, is what matters most.

To help you identify what matters most, download our Finding Balance worksheet.

You might also like:

5 Workplace Policies That Make Life Easier for Family Caregivers

How Caring for Aging Parents Affects a Career


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