I am currently unemployed, and I guess this has in many ways given me a completely different set of stimuli to deal with. I have nothing grandiose to say about my work, as much as I love it; I didn’t change the world. I changed my company, a bit, and some peoples’ worlds, for the better, and I was grateful for that privilege. Some things I built will last for a while, but in the nature of things, people and companies move on. Nothing I built will last “forever”.
I wrote emails, made phone calls, solved people’s problems when I had to, and mentored and guided them to solve their own when I could. I worked with organisational structure, trying to design and get buy in for what tomorrows needs might be and to influence how we could plan for them today. It had its stresses, and its rewards, and, living my life as the central figure of my story, I took those ups and downs happily and was relatively content.
Work was only one chapter in my daily story, and while we all have a work story that is probably relatively similar, there are at least two other stories, every day, all day, in all of our lives. The first other story, is of us as a spouse/partner. As a spouse/partner, I could use some work (I was going to write “…I guess”, but that doesn’t quite capture the truth. I really DO need some work). My long-suffering wife deals every day with my love of technology and being connected, and in times where we are looking for work, that is a reality that is a two edged sword for our relationships; a “necessary evil”. They are our partners, our friends and our confidants, our co-parents and our raison d’etre, but to be honest, I am sure that we are alI at times distracted souls and a preoccupation with work can mean that partners get the second best of us. As breadwinners and having been programmed by society to get our identity from our workplace achievements, our primary energies and passions go into doing our work well, because without that, we feel lost! We all read enough to know that is a false identity, but still, we get it wrong.
When I was working, I would come home, and because of the different time zones I was working across, I believed I could not switch off until the last of my stakeholders also switched off. For many of us, that can happen because of projects, bosses without boundaries, or any of a number of other reasons. Sometimes that can mean midnight or later, when the last email text or Skype message had faded off our screens. In reality, though, that is just us having poor boundaries and discipline. Perhaps it makes us feel special; needed; valuable? There are only 24 hours in a day, though, and the impact of that, is not enough marriage and family time. Looking back, the one thing I think we can all say for sure is that the loyalty we have given work, is never really repaid. When costs are an issue, when politics plays its part, there is no loyalty, and the investment we made in our employer is quickly disregarded. Only then do we realise that we gave away something precious because… because why? It was more important? No, it wasn’t. But it made us FEEL more important. When will we learn?
Our second other story is the story of us parenting our beautiful children. We get some time in the morning, but lets face it, it isn’t quality time. Rushing to get them ready for school, trying to turn lazy into energetic… making breakfasts and lunches and trying to get shoes on and teeth brushed as we rushed out the door every morning. Not great for connecting. In fact just a little uncooperativeness, and we are instantly pressured by our own deadlines into forgetting “family” and we default again to achieving results at any cost.
In the evenings, we have dinner, get the bath done, and then it’s time for bed, all the while distracted and responding to those emails, texts and Skype messages. For a brief, all too brief, 10 or 20 minutes we might slow down and read stories, following the Fantastic Mr Fox® down his hole or imagining Geronimo Stilton® on his various quests for cheese and glory. I would lie across the beds with my kids piling on top of me and hanging off every word (if they had heard it before they would be correcting me as well).
On the weekends we all need to recharge, but there is always so much to do, and in my case with 3 energetic boys and a ballerina princess, we were always going to be busy. Shopping, house stuff, sports, church, etc and before you know it, its Monday.
Now, with work stripped away, and more time on my hands, I am realising stuff. I am looking back and seeing that same routine, those same days, weeks, months and years, but from the perspective of my wife and my children. For those of us on the hamster-wheel of careers and work, this is a good thing to take the time to do. It took a redundancy and unemployment for me to do this, but that is not ideal. That is not first prize. It’s a very poor second prize. If I could, I would go back in time and realise this a decade ago or more, before it could affect precious people.
I am realising just how out of kilter my family’s lives were, because of my choices. My fault, because all the choices I made were my own! But those choices built a real imbalance. They say if you create a radar graph of your life priorities (a “wheel of life”), and score your life out of 10 on five axes, you should aim for a fairly well rounded chart along the axes of work, social, spiritual, family, and health. I am not going to show you my results, but I am not sure my wheel of life could roll anywhere without jarring my teeth loose. But enough about me and my rattling teeth, how would your radar chart look?