From the Khmer Rouge’s forced attempt to turn back the clock in Cambodia to the time I saw my parents in the same bed two years after their breakup, history is filled with both large (Khmer Rouge) and small (my parents) attempts to recapture a bygone era.
And it never, ever works out well.
This has been a year of dramatic personal change for me and my family. I started my own business. I work harder than I’ve ever worked. For the time being, I actually make less money than I made at my last job, where my compensation was on the upper end of my industry, my entire family had their healthcare covered by my employer, and I had offices (literally) across multiple time zones.
That said, I couldn’t be happier with the way things are now. Every morning I wake up feeling like I control my own destiny, and that if I keep working hard my ceiling is much higher—even if I had to start closer to the floor.
This year held another huge change for my family. My wife Megan re-entered the workforce in a big way when she became the Community Manager of a startup incubator. We, but especially Megan, have learned how difficult it is to be a two-income family, and I know she has become very familiar with the term “mom guilt”.
Still, she loves being around her startups, and takes a huge amount of pride in her work. She has created a real community for the companies in her incubator and as one of those companies it’s pretty cool to get to see her succeed at something so different. It makes me crazy proud of her.
Excitement vs. Security
But even if we didn’t like these changes, it would be impossible to go back. Some days I do look back fondly on the time when I wasn’t the one who had to worry about every little thing that happens in our company. I miss the days when I would come home and dinner would just be there, or Megan had had the time to make cookies in the afternoon.
I know our kids miss having their mom waiting at home for them. I know she misses waiting at home for her “littles”. I know we all miss mornings that didn’t seem like a fire drill.
But it really doesn’t matter how much we all miss the way things used to be. It was time for us as individuals and as a family to evolve and change. Things don’t stay the same forever, and while it’s easy to romanticize the good parts about yesterday, it’s also important to remember the things that made you desire change and forced you to evolve.
For me, when I weighed the security of employment against my growing desire to build something of my own, desire easily outweighed security.
It almost always does.
When my wife weighed the security of a life she had known for 12 years against the excitement of doing something new, excitement easily outweighed security.
It almost always does.
We also face this issue as a society and a species. The future is a scary place, and our desire to return to an allegedly safer time seems to drive much of our political dialogue. In fact, George Will, the influential political commentator, has suggested that a litmus test for candidates in 2016 be a willingness to return to what is known as the “Lochner Era”, a time in the early 20th century when, based on a case known as Lochner vs. New York, the Supreme Court rejected almost any law or regulation on the private sector, including minimum wage and child labor laws.
No matter what your political orientation is (and conservative Justices—including Robert Bork and John Roberts—have spoken against “Lochner”), the reality is we can’t go back, as individuals or as societies.
I could give up on growing my business, but I could never go back to a time when I didn’t know what it felt like to call my own shots.
My wife could quit her job and become a stay-at-home mom again, but she could never go back to a time when she didn’t know what it felt like to hear someone tell her she’s doing a good job—and that person not be someone dependent on her for their dinner.
Societally we could abolish minimum wage and child labor laws, but we could never go back to a time when it didn’t feel wrong to have a 10 year-old working in a coal mine for company scrip.
The future can be scary, and 2016 will have its share of disappointments for each of us as individuals, and all of us as a people.
But there is only one way, and that’s forward.
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