The CEO of my former employer loved the word “hubris.” He’d warn against it in grand speeches designed to keep us hungry, innovative and humble. He said avoiding it would ensure we remained client-focused in the face of tremendous success and a steady stream of critical acclaim.
People loved our company but, instead of embracing that love, he challenged us to keep the affection and admiration of others an arm’s length away. His thinking: once you start believing you are great, you’ll focus less on the small details that made you great in the eyes of others. And then — poof — you will no longer be great. He’s not wrong.
Despite my prep school education, I was unfamiliar with the word back then but took to it quickly. Hubris seemed a kissing cousin of “complacency,” an attitude I knew well to avoid. Still, I wouldn’t dare slip “hubris” into casual conversations. It’s a tough word to ram into everyday sentences: “I’ll take a hubris small caramel vanilla steamer hubris and a pumpkin muffin hubris hubris hubris.” See?
Plus, lots of people already think I’m an elitist douche. No need to add another log to that fire.
I believe I’m a pretty good dad. I say that with as little hubris as possible because if they drilled it into me at work for nearly a decade: hungry, innovative, humble, and focused on serving my clients. Got it, boss.
New job, old focus to halt parenting hubris
Long gone is that office full of HR reps and the tens of thousands of 401(k) contributing employees at FedEx. In fact, my client base has shrunk dramatically since choosing the at-home dad life, down to two to be precise. But I’ve stayed hungry, innovative, humble and focused. Maybe at times to the extreme and that’s been exhausting. Now though, after 13 years in this job known as fatherhood, the best job ever, I’ve actively decided to care less about the stuff happening on the sidelines and in the stands so I can stay present on the field of play. (Whoa, who ordered the sports metaphor?)
I still pepper my internal monologue with these kinds of questions:
- Did I check her phone for new apps, photos?
- When was the last time I asked about her friends and their conversations?
- Has she had fruit today? A veggie?
- Does she get enough time outside?
- When was the last time she showered?
- Why was there only one pair of underwear in the laundry but four different outfits? Eewww.
- Is she being bullied?
- Or pressured into things at school? Through text?
- Am I bullying her?
- Did she practice her instrument?
- She is growing up privileged, it’s true, but is she becoming entitled?
- Seriously, why the hell was there only one pair of her underwear in the laundry?
I suffer through a daily parade of these questions because it’s important for me to never start assuming I’ve raised perfect kids. They are pretty freaking great but hubris hubris hubris. I need to stay focused and believe, because it is true, that there’s a lot of work and foundation building still to be completed. My clients still need me to stay hungry, innovative, humble and focused.
Avoiding the TP trap
What I no longer fret about is the roll of toilet paper perpetually left on top of the toilet paper holder that’s bolted into the wall. I’d constantly nag my wife and daughters about putting in the extra 2.5 seconds and minimal muscular effort required to install the new roll properly (or at all) but they constantly wouldn’t, and it would make me steamy as I put in the 2.5 seconds and minimal muscular effort.
I don’t nag them or even put the TP on myself anymore. The TP just sits there, a tiny white 2-ply prince upon his thrown. This might seem terribly small, and it totally is, I’ll admit that, but it is one less stupid, otherwise meaningless thing to get annoyed about during the course of my life. And that, my friends, is not a small thing at all.
Not letting the uninstalled toilet paper roll piss me off makes me a better dad because now I can focus a little bit more on the underwear thing and the phone thing and the instrument, shower, fruits and veggies, outdoor time, bullying, and maybe, on myself a little more too.
I like to think my old boss would be proud of my lack of hubris. He’d like my drive to stay hungry, innovative, humble and focused on raising two great clients, I mean daughters. Raising two great daughters.