The work-life-guilt balance

It’s fast approaching two months since I stepped away from Eyzon in an effort to address a work-life balance that was out of kilter for my personal/family situation. It’s been a fascinating few weeks and I’ve learned a great deal, not just about websites, accountants, the school run and toddler gymnastics, but about me…

“…here we go…”, I hear you sigh, “another self-congratulatory diatribe from a recruiter who loves the sound of his own voice thinly veiled in a humble brag coated in sickly-sweet claptrap based on half-baked truths he read on a website half an hour ago” …bear with me… (although, to be fair, there’s definitely some of that in here somewhere…)

For nigh on twenty years, I’ve worked extremely hard – even if I do say so myself – driven by a guilt complex that knew I could always do more to reach the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But for the last five years I’ve been ignoring the two young bright-eyed pots of gold that I already have at home…in fact three if you count my wife (which I do, of course, particularly given I know she’ll be reading this, probably before you do!)

I have a work ethic that I inherited from my father; a highly successful hotel manager, whose legitimacy in leadership came from his willingness and capacity to do every task in the hotel no matter how technical/menial…if the head chef took the end of his thumb off with a knife he’d don the toque blanche and no one in the restaurant would have the faintest idea anything had gone wrong in the kitchen. Many times, I saw him coming in from work after the best part of a 30-hour shift having had to do the Night Porter’s job when the incumbent had fallen ill and he certainly wasn’t above making beds and hoovering rooms if the chambermaid team were down on numbers…that, in my mind, is what made him successful; hard work and legitimate leadership.

My interpretation of the above has always meant that when I’m running teams I expect to be doing at least as much as, if not more than, those I’m looking after. If I want blood sweat and tears from you, you’ll have seen it from me first…and that explains why, despite being in senior positions for the last 12 years or so of my career, I’ve not taken my foot off the gas. I’m not suggesting this is the correct way to go about things, nor that it worked all the time (it fundamentally did not) but it’s the way I’m wired and led to the behaviours that I exhibit and which ultimately made it glaringly obvious that I should change a few things if I was to cherish those two precious pots I mentioned earlier (Jasper, 5 / Tess, 3 if you’re wondering).

So I started, in June, to work entirely independently, from a home base, with regular trips into London, just not on the 06:20 to Waterloo.

I’m a keen triathlete and golfer and in these two months I have managed to indulge in those activities while also attending my son’s first sports day, picking him up at the end of his first year at school, taking my daughter to gymnastics lessons, splashing around with them in the paddling pool and reading them countless stories – precisely the things I made this change to do…and I’ve loved it. I’m not suggesting I was miserable before, I wasn’t, but it has become apparent I had my priorities in the wrong order. Now, I’m sleeping better than I’ve done in a decade, my mood is brighter and things feel, in general, better…

…but still, despite having no team to manage and no-one to report to, a cloud of guilt hangs over me the moment I step away from my desk, which, given I’ve taken this decision for reasons I know are not only justifiable, but are fundamentally right, to be frank, is sodding irritating.

In my new world, I’m not trying to set an example to anyone, I’m not trying to encourage teams into performing at their very best every hour of the day…of course I’m trying to provide exemplary service to my clients but that’s not the same thing…so why do I continue to beat myself up every time I do something that isn’t work orientated?

I blame my father (he’s not getting out of this article un-tarnished), he and I are clones of each other to the extent that even we can’t tell our voices apart when played back to us on a recording (I’m not exaggerating)…but physical attributes aside, the same impetus that kept him working 17 hour days from his late teens through to his mid-sixties has clearly been passed down through the genes and it’s probably the only thing I’ve inherited off him that I’d like to change (perhaps barring the eyebrows).

I’m not suggesting I want to entirely eradicate my work ethic, but I would like not to feel guilty when cheering on the sack race, playing snakes & ladders or going for a run in the countryside. I/We should be able to value this as part of life, as important as putting bread on the table and keeping a roof above our heads…it’s so obvious when written down, but the irony is, that while I’ve been penning this article I’ve checked my emails approximately every paragraph and can feel the tension rising because I’ve not engaged with you, my network, more directly.

While I have related a lot of this to my genes and upbringing it is very clear this is a societal issue. Most of you reading this (and if you’ve got this far, thank you) will echo some, if not all, of what I say. We know the world is changing its attitudes towards flexibility/agility and how we work. My situation, which still feels alien to me, is becoming more acceptable, more normal. I hope that as this continues, as this shift embeds itself at all levels of the work place the unnatural, damaging, self-imposed stresses we all feel may evaporate, or at least lessen. If we continue to embrace this change, we may ensure the generation behind us is not wracked with guilt every time they do something that makes them feel happier.

If we celebrate this, then our children will be next…

…a good friend of mine did what I’m doing, work-wise, about five years ago and I had a coffee with him a fortnight back…” got used to the guilty feelings yet” he asked with a grin on his face (I was out on my bike in the morning and was sat with him half way home as the route took me past his office) …”no” I said…