Leadership Spotlight

I Should Have Eaten More Ice Cream!

Stock image of two men talking at work.


I recently had a conversation with colleagues regarding work-life balance. This cordial discussion focused on the ever-present conflict between earning a living to support family members versus the need to spend time with them. As the conversation continued, a wise colleague shared how his two daughters now reap the benefits of his hard work by attending excellent colleges. Sure, his achievements and promotions necessitated missing important events in their lives, but without these sacrifices he would not hold his current financial position. He took pride in providing an excellent education for his daughters. 

When asked if missing family events was worth providing a better life for his family, he replied that he wished he could have been there for all of his daughters’ noteworthy occasions; however, to succeed as a breadwinner, he dutifully incurred the costs of not being present. A single ensuing question altered his perception immediately: “If your daughters faced a choice of going to a highly rated college or spending more time with their dad, what choice would they make?” He bowed his head, looked up again, and replied, “They probably would choose to spend more time with dad.”

You may make similar sacrifices. But, what would your children say was more ideal—being in a better financial position or having their mother and father present?

My wife and I have a conversation every so often in which we ask each other, as well as our friends, this simple question: “If you were on your deathbed, what would you wish you had done more of?” Most people have answered the question by stating they would have spent more time with family, but there are exceptions to that rule. For example, my wife, very fit and health conscious, always answers, “I would wish that I had eaten more ice cream!” To date—and we have asked hundreds of people this same question—no one has answered, “I would wish that I had worked more.”

Every day we make choices concerning how we spend our time. While work is a necessity, our priorities sometimes become unbalanced. One author wrote, “For no matter what we achieve, if we don’t spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect, we cannot possibly have a great life.”1 If everyone did an honest self-assessment of their actions compared with their priorities, they might just decide they would be better off eating more ice cream.

Supervisory Special Agent M. Bret Hood, an instructor in the Leadership and Communications Unit at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight.


Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2001).