For those of us in Australia, 1 September marks the beginning of Spring. This season brings the promise of longer, warmer days and the re-emergence of things dormant and new life. It is with all these things that many people start to make plans and “refresh” practices.
This thinking was in my mind as I was sitting with a client in a Melbourne coffee shop. In a wide-ranging conversation over a few hours we discussed many things including the life lessons that have come his way. His career started in corporate, then transitioned to an entrepreneurial career where he owned the business and now has transitioned back into corporate.
We talked about the thrill of being your own boss as opposed to being a “cog in the wheel” for someone else. Many entrepreneurs and business owners relish this level of autonomy. With that autonomy, however, comes the responsibility to actually do the work and deliver an output. There is no hiding when you don’t earn a salary.
Many business owners work long hours to ensure their business is successful and sustainable. Over time this way of working becomes the norm. Priorities such as family often drop down the line as work demands take over. Of course, business leaders do not have dominance in this domain, many different walks of life put work as the number one priority.
For my client in Melbourne, this came sharply into focus when one evening he arrived home to an empty house. Silence. On the table was a post-it-note. It read, “Enjoy the silence. This is what it will be like when we are gone.”
Wham! Straight to the heart and core of his potential future. Unless he “refreshed” his approach to family, his wife was letting him know she and the kids would soon be leaving. All he would have left would be the silence. It would be the silence of loneliness. Not the silence of contemplation and reflection that we often crave.
Unfortunately, his situation is not unique. Many people, mostly men but increasingly women, face this issue. The desire to succeed in work or as a business owner becomes uni dimensional. Men still largely view their roles as the breadwinners in families, according to a recent HBR article. The idea they are doing all this work for their families still permeates through modern biology from “hunter” days.
Yet, as this client was told in no uncertain terms by his almost estranged wife, that providing for the family was the price of entry to having a family. Just turning up in the family is not enough. Being present as a husband and father is also a requirement!
This incident and challenge is not unique to this client. I regularly talk to organisations and other clients on how to successfully integrate the working component of life into the overall life plan. This is quite different to the out dated idea of work life balance. It recognises the valuable place of work within the broader framework of life, it is not a one size fits all approach and needs to be fluid to meet an individual’s changing needs and stages.
At different ages and stages in life we experience reasons to seek flexibility from work. The birth of children, the first few weeks in child care when they bring home every sickness one can imagine, elderly parents, study leave and many other events.
This is a complex topic and often more difficult that we think. Society has changed significantly over the last few decades particularly in the last fifteen years. Today our society is completely fluid. We are able to shop 24/7 anywhere in the world. We consume news online from a raft of news outlets. We check in on Facebook when we arrive at a new restaurant and then upload pictures of our meals onto Instagram for friends to like.
With this there are emerging trends and expectations. We have immediate and constant access to information and are “connected” and “contactable” nearly everywhere at any time. A recent insight into the recruitment practices of emerging companies in Australia suggest that unless candidates are available 24/7 they will not get a second interview for a potential position. This is gauged by how often they return emails between 9pm-midnight. If a prospective candidate does not reply in that time window they are not deemed suitable for this organisation. That may seem extreme compared to traditional industries. But society is actually contactable 24/7 and work follows society. A little like art imitating life.
So for our friend in Melbourne…he “refreshed” his approach. This didn’t mean that he had to give up his passions. It just meant getting clarity on his life plan and the role of “work” within that relative to his other priorities. He is still happily married ten years later. Occasionally he misses the adrenaline of owning his own business but readily admits that for him his family relationship is more important – that’s what he was doing it for in the first place.
What does it being Spring give you the inspiration to “refresh”?