In a wrenching essay, a tech executive in Portland, Ore., shared how the death of his 8-year-old son forced him to rethink how he has oriented his life around work, and he urged other parents to do the same.
In a LinkedIn post that has gone viral, J.R. Storment detailed how his days had been dominated by work since he co-founded the Portland cloud management start-up Cloudability in 2011, the same month he had twin boys. And he wrote about the regret he felt about things he wished he had done differently with his son Wiley, who died unexpectedly in his sleep last month of complications from epilepsy.
Storment said that he is struggling to redefine his relationship to work — and urged other parents not to make the same mistakes.
“A lot of the things you are likely spending your time on you’ll regret once you no longer have the time,” Storment wrote.
Parents frequently schedule one-on-one meetings with co-workers, but do they schedule them with their kids? “If there’s any lesson to take away from this, it’s to remind others (and myself) not to miss out on the things that matter,” he said in his essay.
The post struck a chord with working parents trying to juggle children and jobs in an age when technology dictates that work begins the moment you pick up your phone in the morning and stops only when you force yourself to put it down.
“Through the story about this tragic event comes an incredibly important reminder about priorities — one that the term #worklifebalance can’t even begin to describe,” tweeted Jullie Strippoli, an assistant branch manager with Charles Schwab. “I strongly recommend that every working parent read J.R.’s post.”
In a 2018 Ciphr study of 1,400 working parents, more than half said they felt judged by colleagues or bosses for trying to balance their home and work lives. Both parents and non-parents are increasingly struggling with the threat of burnout, which comes at a significant cost: The Harvard Business Review estimates that $125 billion to $190 billion in health-care spending each year is tied to the physical and psychological tolls of burnout.
On the morning Storment would learn that his son had died, he rose early for back-to-back meetings and left without saying goodbye, completing two work calls before arriving at the office. When the call came from his wife, Storment was in a meeting with employees in his Portland office regarding paid time off. He had just told them he hadn’t taken more than a contiguous week off in eight years.
Storment hasn’t worked since Wiley died, and he said he’s struggling with how to return “in a way that won’t leave me again with the regrets I have now.”
“To be honest, I’ve considered not going back,” Storment wrote. “But I believe in the words of Kahlil Gibran who said, ‘Work is love made visible.’ To me, that line is a testament to how much we gain, grow and offer through the work we do. But that work needs to have a balance that I have rarely lived.”
Wiley was already planning for future business ventures, Storment wrote, including a smoothie stand, a virtual-reality-headset operation and a “spaceship building company.” He would sometimes invite his brother and parents to join in his planning but made it clear that he would take the lead.
That made reading the words, “Occupation: Never Worked” on his son’s death certificate one of the most painful moments, Storment wrote.
In the post, Storment described a happy memory that has taken on a sorrowful significance now: dancing with Wiley years earlier at the Oregon Country Fair, while the band performed “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think).”
“You work and work for years and years, you’re always on the go/ You never take a minute off, too busy makin’ dough,” the song goes in the lead-up to its titular advice, which Storment and his wife are imploring other parents to heed.
“We wish a lot of things were different, but mostly we wish we’d had more time. If you are a parent and have any capacity to spend more time with your kids, do,” Jessica Brandes, Wiley’s mother and Storment’s wife, wrote in her own LinkedIn post. “It is priceless and should not be squandered. Take your vacation days and sabbaticals and go be with them. You will not regret the emails you forgot to send.”