By Tim Hayes

“Is this really necessary?” I asked my boss over the phone, one Sunday morning.

“Yes, I expect you in here this afternoon,” came the unmistakably unsympathetic reply.

“How about after dinner?  We’re having people over this afternoon,” I pleaded.

“The pitch is tomorrow.  We’re not ready.  Get in here as soon as you can.”  And with that the call abruptly ended.

So that evening around 5, I walked out of a house full of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighborhood friends, to drive into the office downtown – and miss most of my first child’s first birthday party.

Twenty-six years later, and it still makes me angry.  When it doesn’t fill me with shame and heartache, that is.

And the best part?  The agency I worked at back then didn’t even win the business the next day anyway.  What a waste.  What a crock.  What a mess.

At the age of 30, a young father and a brand-new member of the agency team at the time, a stinging sense of powerlessness pervaded every corner of my professional life.  Low man on the totem pole, and all that.  I was certainly on the ladder and slowly climbing, one hard-earned rung at a time, but instances like missing that special milestone birthday party really hurt.  I didn’t yet have the confidence, the track record, or the guts to say “No” to such unreasonable demands, I suppose.

But I do now.  And, damn, does that feel good.

A few weeks shy of 57 today, with nearly four decades of ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies behind me, I know that turning down unfair or time-wasting requests won’t be the end of the world.  I lost my Panic Button a long time ago.  Even as a self-employed professional for the past 18 years, I know that dry spells don’t last, not every engagement will be perfect, and good work done at a fair price always wins.

Jerry Seinfeld once said on a late-night talk show something to the effect of, “It’s so nice getting to a certain age, and just being able to say no to things you used to feel obligated to say yes to when you were younger.”  Amen, Jerry.

None of this means that I have, in any way, changed my approach to client service.  Sometimes an inconvenient obligation simply can’t be worked around, and that’s okay.  But it does mean that I’m much more confident about talking things over to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution about scheduling or deadlines or any other variable.

And people typically understand.  We’re all flexible and accommodating.  We’re all professionals who deserve to give and receive respect.  When a bump in the road comes up, being honest and asking for a fresh take on the situation has proven pretty successful, at least in my experience.  There’s always a way between people of goodwill.

Because some things should always come first, like family.  The busyness of business will always be there.  But it all seems to get done, even amid the pressures, both real and imagined.  If you need space, ask for space.  If someone you’re working with needs space, let him or her have it.  Even Christ had to get away by himself every now and then, for heaven’s sake.  Literally.

You shouldn’t have to short-change the important people in your life, in pursuit of an unreasonable, unfair, or unattainable workplace objective.  The power to stake that claim increases with age and reputation, no doubt.  But even for younger professionals, the best supervisors understand this concept and try to make it real among their teams.  And believe me, those teams will value and remember that consideration for a long time.  I wish my boss from long ago had lived by that rule.

Because I’ll be damned if I’m going to (someday) miss my first grandchild’s birthday party.

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes