Ten years ago, when I was leading Up with People, I learned firsthand the demands of a CEO. I was traveling 50% of the time internationally and growing the company. I was also trying to grow a family. I learned, then, that balance doesn’t really exist. Balance is a myth. It is just a word. Choices and priorities exist in our lives. And it is how we handle our choices and priorities that gives us “balance”.
I remember Jill and I taking the kids to Magic Kingdom at Disneyworld. We were in line for the “It’s a Small World” ride. There was an hour wait. Perfect time to get on my Blackberry and get some work done – so I thought. A few minutes later my wife taps me on the shoulder and says in a soft voice, “You are at freaking Disney World. Put that “crackberry” away and talk to your kids. They are only young once!”
It was then, that I realized that I had an addiction. Not to drugs, alcohol, tobacco or gambling – but to my mobile device. It has been an addiction my entire marriage. And it is something that I know prohibits me from becoming the husband and father I want to be.
I was in Toronto last week for a speech. I met up with a good friend of mine. He and his family just got back the night before from a week-long family vacation to Turks and Caicos. He told me it was the first time in his career he went on a “Digital Detox”. For the entire week, no mobile device. I remember thinking – I have never done that – I could never do that – I REALLY need to do that.
I sent another buddy of mine, Zack Neumeyer, an e-mail last week. Here was his auto-reply:
Thank you for your email. I am out of the office until Tuesday March 14th. I will be unreachable and will not have access to email, text or phone and will not be checking any messages. If you need assistance, please contact Michele at blah blah blah.
I remember thinking – I have never written an auto-reply like that – I could never write an auto-reply like that – I REALLY need to write an auto-reply like that.
My mentor and good Aussie mate, Stephen “Klem” Klemich, calls mobile devices the devil in our pocket. True, that our mobile phone gives the opportunity to work less at the office. But it also gives us the opportunity to work more at home, or when you are watching your kid’s baseball game or when you are on a date night with your spouse. I am guilty of all three.
Klem tells me that I need to control my device, not let my device control me. He tells me that I need to pull over two houses away from home and finish all my work. Then shut the phone off and don’t turn it back on until the kids are sleeping and I’ve connected with my wife. Klem insists the message I give my kids when I’m on my mobile device in front of them is that my work is more important than them. They may not tell me these words, but they sure as heck feel these words.
I’m going on Spring Break in Florida with my family on March 24th. For the first time in my life I’m going to write an auto-reply that says:
Hi, this is Tommy. I’m an addict. I’m on my damn mobile phone 24/7. Please help me. I’m going on a Digital Detox for the next week. I want to be a better husband. I want my kids to know that they are more important than my phone. So please give me the grace and understanding to get back to you on April 2nd, when I return.
I will let you know how that goes for me. I have a feeling something good is going to come of it. I hope we all can be “on” for our loved ones more than we are “on” our mobile phones. I hope we all can control our mobile devices and not let them control us. And I hope the next time you are at Disney World, that you give your mobile device to Mickey or Minnie for the day, and talk to your kids while standing in line for It’s a Small World!