My children take turns with the best of them. They have a strong instinct for when it is their turn, but they will (if prompted and given a reason to do so, sometimes) give other people a chance to play with an important toy or go down the slide in front of them. Their sense of ownership is absolute. They say “mine” as if their lives depended upon it. My one and half year old has developed this low rasp to his voice whenever he is arguing with his sister over an item that he doesn’t want to give up. It is so insistant that often my three and a half year old daughter will have to run to one of us to make him stop. But, he is just as gracious sometimes, too. He will bring my daughter her socks instead of putting his on first. He will hand me the remote to the wii instead of banging it against the wall like he wants to. My children take turns and share, and they do it with more transparency than almost anyone else I know, including adults.
Adults have a hard time taking turns on much of anything. There is the sense that we have already done our waiting (perhaps as children) and we no longer need to do it anymore. In our professional lives, we see little benefit to waiting in line. The stories that get told most often in professional circles are of the outstanding wunderkinds or amazing successes achieved in short periods of time. We are in awe of 1 million iPads selling in the first month of existence or the meteoric rise of LeBron James. Even in our poetry, Dreams Differed are not well thought of.
And yet, taking turns is still a value I harbor. I just think it requires more investment than we tell our children.
Taking turns requires us to all agree that there will be some point in the future at which the turn will be reciprocated, that my attempt will be just as respected as the previous one. There is no guarrentee of this in business or school. That is why we don’t take turns in our careers. We know that no one will ever give us our turn back or hold our spot in line.
It is my contention, however, that anyone who will not invest the amount of effort it takes to hold your place in line or to give you a turn in front of them doesn’t matter. I believe that all relationships that are not turn-based are doomed to fail. And I know this because of my family.
I mentioned that I my children take turns pretty well, but the person that I take turns with the most is my wife. We take turns all of the time. I get up with my children while my wife gets another 30 minutes of sleep. I never get that sleep back, but that isn’t the kind of turn I’m looking for. I put my son to bed so that my wife can start studying for her Micro-Biology exam. I’m not exchanging that time for something else, however. I drive 30 minutes out of my way so that my family can have a dinner out at Wahoo’s Fish Tacos. I don’t expect my wife to do the same.
That isn’t what taking turns is about. Taking turns is about knowing the relationship so well that you never have to trade on a line of credit. There is never any true up and the end of the fiscal year and there is no bank that I deposit my efforts into with my family. Taking turns is all about knowing exactly where the next move is for everyone involved. It is about having a partnership that doesn’t wait for permission. It is about making a decision and then dealing with the consequences together. Sometimes I am making those decisions, and sometimes my wife is. Those are the turns I am talking about.
Anyone in the public world is not a true partner unless they can see through to at least some of what I am talking about here. Unless you can make decisions with someone else, whether that is another company, another colleague or another department, there is no hope for that relationship to last. The future is a daunting enough task without having to worry that your efforts have to dovetail perfectly every step of the way. You should be able to put in the effort with those people enough for you to make decisions sometimes and for them to do so the others, and for you both to deal with the ramifications.
There are some pretty big turns coming up for my family and the ramifications of those decisions will be felt for years to come. My wife has applied to nursing school. I have started a business. It isn’t about which one is going to win out, or which one has to come first. It isn’t about who quits their job or how we find money for child care. It isn’t even about whether or not we can find time for hanging out with our kids. These turns are about who we want to be when we grow up.
We want to be happy. We want to be fulfilled. We want to be together. Those are the deciding factors. Turns are not worth taking, otherwise.
Wish us luck.
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