Shane is an entrepreneur and a man 100% committed to living the best life he can. Something he takes an incredibly rational approach to. He’s the founder of two businesses. The most widely known is the incredible Farnam Street, an organisation all about mastering the best of what other people have already figured out. The second is Syrus Partners, an investment business that invests for the long term. He’s a single dad of two kids, 7 and 8, sharing custody with his ex-wife. He lives in Canada.
Being an entrepreneur it's easier for me than for some people who work 9 - 5 jobs. I mean that sincerely because I can blend and harmonise my life together a lot more than other people can. When I’m with my kids I’m fully with them. I think I’m a better worker because I’m present with my kids and I think I’m a better father because when I work, I work and that’s it.
Then I have the flexibility to take days off, weeks off, and months off. I took most of July off and went to Paris with the kids, and that’s something that's really hard to do if you work in a normal job. Don’t get me wrong, as an entrepreneur, it wasn’t all vacation - there was a ton of work involved too, but from the kids' perspective they didn’t see much of that. We did have a lot of people I do business with come and stay with us and that was amazing for me and the kids and has done wonders for our working relationships. They got to see another side of me and I got to see another side of them and we talked a lot of shop. With the kids it was good bonding time, a chance for us to get to get out of your environment that you’re typically in and see the world.
I don’t know about a conscious choice but there's always a destination in mind.
Every December, I talk about this in the blog, I take a few days to think about my life.
I check in with where I’m at and where I want to go. I ask myself specific questions like what did I do this year that was a big waste of time? How do I avoid that next year? What do I do with my time that I don’t like? What am I doing that drives me insane?
Then I do one of three things with the answers. Eliminate them; or develop principles to handle them; or set a goal to reduce the amount of things that I don’t like in my life. Meetings are an example. Meetings can be great and useful, but often they are not. As someone who runs a popular website I get a lot of requests for meetings. People are in town and want to grab lunch. That's great but if I do that for everybody then I have no time to create. No time to run a business, to connect with the people that are close to me. So I’ve come up with principles and boundaries to handle that and every year they get refined a bit more.
I can’t speak for everyone, but some people confuse time with their kids for quality time with their kids. The two are dramatically different things. If you’re sitting at the dinner table with your kids but on your cell phone trying to do work, you're physically present but you aren’t mentally present. Kids need us to be mentally present. They need connection.
When I’m with my children, to the extent possible, I try to be with them, present with them. My intention is to be focusing my attention on them, to be developing my relationship with them. It’s not to be somewhere else.
I only see my kids half the time so when I’m with them, I want to maximise that time. It can be something as simple as watching cartoons with them or playing a board game but I’m not on my phone, I’m there with them, laughing with them, and building that relationship.
I try to instil in my kids an idea of how the world works. That manifests itself in different ways. I believe in natural consequences, in trying to teach my kids to think about what’s going to happen as a result of what they’re doing.
Occasionally they get into an argument and hit each other. What I do in these situations is I empathise with them. I try and get their side of the story and understand it, without necessarily agreeing with it. Then I reason with them, to the extent that I can. I know all this probably sounds better over an interview than in practice! But I’ll go back to asking them what they’re trying to accomplish and whether hitting is the best way to accomplish that. I’ll ask them to think of alternatives that are more likely to get them what they want.
Another thing I’ve talked to them about are those people in life you have to please. Reinforcing that you don’t have to agree, you can think differently. But at the end of the day, you have somebody there and your mission is to please them. If they want you do to the math one way and you want to do it in another way, then do it both ways. If you just do it your way, they're not going to be happy with that. If you have a different way of doing it, then by all means do that, explore it and be creative with it. But you have to show that you’ve learnt what they are trying to teach you. That’s your job when you’re a kid in school.
Life works like that too. Almost all of us have a boss, someone who we have to show we’re confident and capable. Their subjective opinion matters. That's a bit of reality, probably more complicated than a 7 or 8 year old would understand, but I’m trying to reinforce that.
The other thing I try and teach them is to be curious about everybody. Everybody they meet has something to teach them. Their job is to uncover what that is, what they can learn from that person.
I often think backwards. When they are 18, they’ll probably move away for school. I'm divorced so I get my kids half the time, so that's 9 out of 18 years. And it’s not really 18 years because when they are 12, 13, 14 they become more independent. I want to be there for them but it’s going to be different to how it is now. Them needing you to be present won’t change but your parenting style changes, the intensity of your involvement changes. The problems you’re challenged with change.
Time is like the sword of Damocles hanging over my head. I have a 4 to 5 more years where the kids are likely going to be this intense with me. Out of those, they'll be with my ex for half the time. So I’ve really only got 2 or maybe 3 years to solidify the relationship with them. That’s not a lot of time. That’s why it has to be high quality time.
That thinking helps me be present with them. To shape my travel around them. It helps me want to experience life with them.
A lot of people are trying to rush through parenting. I call this time shifting. They can’t wait to get to the next stage of parenting. They can’t wait until they're out of diapers… can’t wait until they go to school… can’t wait until they can do their own homework… can’t wait until...
This approach means you’re never in the moment. You’re always wishing for the future, so you’re never in the present. That’s a recipe for unhappiness.
It was from my mom after a really frustrating day. I was upset with myself because I had behaved in a way I didn’t want around my kids.
My mom said, 'it happens, at the end of the day, wipe the slate clean and get up the next day and do the best you can'.
That’s pretty profound as a parent because you are going to make mistakes with your kids. You are going to fall down. You can’t let them compound. You have to acknowledge your limits, that you are fallible. You’re not perfect, but you can get better. You can wipe the slate clean at the end of the day, get up the next day and try and do the best you can with the hand you’ve been dealt. How you respond to mistakes is often way more important than the mistake itself.
We were pretty thoughtful about it. After marriage counselling, we knew it was coming. We agreed an approach. We started by reading them books where the parents don’t live together, months in advance of us actually separating.
That helped open up conversations about parents living separately, about how it happens and how it’s normal. We were really clear it was nothing they did wrong, it’s not on them. This is not something a kid needs to worry about.
After we moved into different houses, we made sure to do different activities at different houses that the kids loved. That way, on transition days, there was always something to look forward to that they loved, that they could only do with their mom or their dad. That was our way of easing them into the transitions.
In hindsight that sounds easier than it was -divorce is an incredibly difficult and painful process - but it was always conscious. One thing that makes our co-parenting approach stronger is, that even when we don’t agree, we're generally coming at it from a kid's first perspective.
And of course, when they are with their mom it’s incredibly difficult. It’s hard not to be on the couch missing them. You try and distract yourself. The hardest thing about the divorce for me was not being able to see my kids every day.
When do you become a dad? If it was the moment of conception then I was elated because it was sex!
The mother has been growing a baby inside them for 9 months, the father hasn’t. You’ve suddenly got this person alive and in front of you. You have this genetic bond but it’s not the same as the mother: I didn't have 9 months of a person growing inside me.
I used to do a ton of skin on skin time. I would fall asleep with the kids on my chest as much as I could.
There's a range of emotions though —from elation to ‘what am I supposed to do!’. I wouldn't change anything, but there's sadness, there's sorrow, there's divorce, there's frustration. If my life wasn't very variable emotionally before, it certainly is now.
One thing I've noticed is that my patience has increased a lot. Before I'd get super frustrated with situations but now I have better perspective. Things that used to be meaningful are no longer as meaningful. Things that weren't are now super meaningful. I think that kids help you ground your perspective.
I want my kids to want to spend time with me. I want them to be fully functioning adults pursuing their dreams. I want to have the type of house where the kids come over and have dinner together as adults, with grandchildren, and with good fortune great-grandchildren. I want forty people running around and complete chaos. I want to be sipping wine in Southern France and watching the grandkids playing in the yard. Family is so incredibly important to me.
There’s nothing that could top that in my mind from a life satisfaction point of view. To have that closeness, that presence. What does it take to do that? You need to spend time with your kids to bond with them, to be present with them. You need to a strong relationship with them. You need to pursue their interests not always your own interests. I’m working towards that every day.
I’m not attached to that outcome, because I think attaching to outcomes is disastrous from a happiness point of view. But I know what I want in terms of meaning, and I know there are ways to not get that. So if I want to have a meaningful relationship with my kids, I know one way to screw that up is not be present with them now.
Unconditional love. And, importantly, being there every day for your kids, not just showing up but being present.
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