In the new series, “I Have to Ask You“, our guest columnist responds to one of three topics selected by ELGL co-founder Kent Wyatt.
By Benjamin Bitter – LinkedIn and Twitter
“No other success can compensate for failure in the home” ( J. E. McCulloch, Home: The Savior of Civilization , 42).
Like I’m sure many of you, I started my career path to city management as a young college bachelor. Soon enough, I got married, earned an MPA, and got my first local government gig — all with the aspiration of becoming a city manager. I had my first daughter, settled into my new normal, then had a second daughter right after potty-training the first one (hallelujah!). Shortly after my second daughter turned two, I was recruited to my first city manager position.
Suddenly, time became a much more precious commodity. I began to realize the strain my job was having on my family, and I recalled hearing a wise friend say “If you show me your calendar, I will show you what is most important to you.” I realized I was missing out on precious memories in order to put in extra long hours at the office to solve that day’s emergency. One night, a lengthy council meeting even kept me from going to the circus (and now the circus is no more! ).
It took having a third little girl to slap the perspective into me. I wanted to see her grow up. I wanted her to laugh with me, I wanted to watch her learn to walk, and I wanted her to know that she would always be my priority! I have been fortunate to accomplish those goals since having my third. And I am thrilled about it!
So how does a city manager, or an aspiring city manager, or a dedicated local government official stay “available 24/7” to his/her bosses and the many residents he/she serves, while helping his/her family thrive? (Maybe I should mention the overused and cliché phrase “work-life balance” here).
Manage expectations early on! Treat family time as sacred, and schedule it on your calendar. Let your boss(es) know that you are committed and dedicated to accomplish your work, but that your family is your number one priority. Develop a plan, and surround yourself with reliable and capable professionals that you can lean on to fill in for you if you are scheduled to do something with your family. Depending on the size of your town, you’ll probably always have people come up to ‘talk shop’ with you while you’re at dinner, shopping, or attending church with your family. Be prepared to listen and quickly resolve their concerns (if you can), but also be prepared to hand them a business card and say “I know the exact person you need to talk to. Send me an email and I’ll put you in touch with them on Monday morning.”
For me, no title is greater than the title of ‘dad’. My three little princesses are literal god-sends to me and my sweet wife. My whole life revolves around them. I don’t live to work — I work to live…And to bring stability and happiness to my home. There will always be larger paychecks out there if you want to chase them. There will always be a bigger city, or a “fancier” title, or a new opportunity. If you let a paycheck, a title, or the size of your city define you, you may come to find a time when your life lacks definition. By defining yourself by (in the grand scheme of things) temporary steps along the journey of life, you will lose focus of the whole reason for the journey!
Being a city manager is rewarding! You help shape a community, you help that community prepare for the future, you work with great people. But being a father has brought me all that, and so much more. Families — even YOUR family — are the fundamental unit of communities. By building and enriching your family, you also build and enrich the community.
Before becoming a dad, my goals were focused on what I wanted to become (a city manager). My personal and professional aspirations now focus on who I want to become (world’s best husband/dad, man of unmatched integrity, beauty, character, humility, etc.). And I’d like to think that I am doing a pretty good job at that — give or take the humility part.