Wake up and smell the roses

What time out of the corporate world has taught me

Amidst the flotsam and jetsam that flows through my LinkedIn feed on a daily basis, there are occasional posts that really grab my attention, for reasons good or bad.

One such post satisfied that criteria earlier this week, but unfortunately it was for all the wrong reasons.

The article referred to a software CEO who described a key question he asks in interviews - “Would you leave your family behind on holiday if work required you to do so for ‘important business’?”.

Any potential candidate saying “No”, would not be offered the job. What a great way of assessing their total commitment to the company before they even start, eh?

He even boasted about how he abandoned his own family at Disneyland during one holiday so he could go off and close a deal. I guess he was at least practicing what he preached.

To me, this post raises important issues for us all to consider – what is more important, family or job? Who do we want to be in control of our lives, ourselves or our paymasters?

Most of us end up with some kind of happy medium, but there will inevitably be times when you are forced to choose. Like when in the midst of an interview with this CEO, for instance.

I have been out of the corporate world for a few months now and it has been a theme I have been thinking about a fair amount while considering my next move.

This time has also given me the opportunity to become more heavily involved in the minutiae of daily life than was ever possible when I was on the 6.48am to London Bridge each morning.

School drop-offs and pick-ups, shopping, attending school events, volunteering, getting to know the neighbours better, joining local clubs, learning new skills. There’s so much one can get involved with, given the time.

Of course, I have been working too, but in a different way to how I was before. Project-based and more like a series of intensive sprints rather than at a steady consistent marathon pace.

I’ve spoken to lots of people who are also working in a similarly unstructured way – consulting, working from home, co-working, collaborating, start-ups, family businesses… there are plenty of them around.

It has also made me think about my own father who is sadly no longer with us.

He had an amazing work ethic, building a company from scratch, starting out in our garage and growing it into a sizeable organisation that employed many people over many years and establishing a legacy brand that still exists today.

But it did require sacrifices – early mornings, late nights, weekends, overseas trips.

I recall one occasion when he came along to watch me play football. This was a rare occurrence for him and he even commented on the fact afterwards, saying that he wished he’d got along to see more of my games over the years.

I don’t recall the times he wasn’t there, but I clearly remember this particular game when he was on the touchline, supporting me and adding to the reservoir of cherished memories I have of him.

It also made me all the more determined to be as present as possible for my own children, creating as many of our own shared moments as possible along the way.

One of the most poignant songs I know and one that never fails to bring a lump to my throat is Harry Chapin’s ‘Cats in the cradle’ (if you haven’t properly listened to it before, I urge you to do so)

It is a heart-breaking tale of lost opportunity and regret. Of prioritising other things over family and only realising what is really important when it is too late to do anything about it.

I don’t want to end up like that and so, as I continue with the next chapter of my working life, I am determined to place three core values at the heart of what I do.

Firstly, I will prioritise quality time for family and loved ones. As best I can, I will plan work around the important people and events in my life rather than the other way around. Compartmentalising work and keeping it in its compartment rather than letting it seep into every waking moment.

Secondly, when I am spending time with them, I will be totally present. Taming my mobile phone behaviour is a key challenge here and also avoiding continual checking of emails when involved in a family activity. I’m sure many of us do this and I’m not proud to admit to it either. But I’m aware of the fault and intend to tame the habit.

And thirdly, I will try to create as many shared moments as possible that will live on in my children’s memories long into the future. These don’t have to be big ‘flagship’ events either. Sometimes it is the simple everyday rituals that can carry far greater importance. Like my Dad’s touchline appearance, for instance.

I don't believe that prioritising these values makes one any less effective workwise. On the contrary, I've always found that a well-rounded, balanced and happy worker is also a more productive and efficient one too.

And one things for sure, if I ever take my family to Disneyland, I will be staying until the very last ride.


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