Tag Archives: work-life balance

Enjoying the holidays

Confession time: for the first time in a long while, I was actually sorry to see my children go back to school this morning.  Although my clients, collaborators and other work-related partners will be relieved to see me head back for my computer, coaching sessions and training courses.  Not to mention the relief of my bank account after an income-less week!

Yet I actually enjoyed this half-term holiday, achieved a good combination of external and home-based activities, barely screamed at the children and just relished their remarkably well-behaved, helpful and amusing company.  So what was different?  I suppose the answer was ‘my attitude’.  Instead of looking upon the holidays as a nuisance interruption of my work and forever being with one eye on my Inbox, I deliberately chose to keep my laptop switched off.  I threw myself wholeheartedly into playing, laughing, chatting and doing silly things with the children.  The result?  I felt like I had swallowed some Wonka-Vite pills and turned twenty years younger.

I don’t think the comparison is entirely forced if I say that I felt I had fully embraced their culture and their world, instead of judging them from my grown-up perspective and culture.  I had entered their perception of time (i.e. we have all the time in the world), their concept of value and status (i.e. you may play tennis better, but I have superpowers).   It wasn’t an entirely one-way process either.  We played lots of board games and by winning some and losing some, by crying some and laughing some, we all learnt to cope and move on.  I like to believe that some of my grown-up messages were thus reinforced.

I don’t think that this ‘total immersion’ thing is possible or even desirable all the time, but, while it lasted, it refreshed us all, created even stronger bonds and mutual understanding.  Now, let me think of a way or replicating this in cross-cultural coaching and training…

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Fish to live or live to fish?

A lovely story that I have heard many times in different incarnations (nationalities and personalities differed slightly) has been doing the rounds on blogs again lately, perhaps as a criticism of the capitalist economic model:

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The fisherman replied, only a little while.

The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?

The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life.”

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15-20 years.” “But what then?”

The American laughed and said that’s the best part. “When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions.. Then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

But the truth is that some of us are driven by the money,  power and status symbols, and perhaps only regret life passing us by when it is too late.  What is also true, however, is that some of us love our work so much that we would do it even if we weren’t paid for it.  In fact, some of us subsidise our ‘real’ work by doing other, lesser work – so we actually ‘pay’ to be allowed to do the work we feel passionate about.

I know scientists and researchers who are so passionate about the work they do that they still come into the lab each day, even after they retire.  That is employee engagement!  That is what employers dream of!  But that is commitment to the work itself, to the profession, rather than to a specific organisation.

What kind of worker are you?  And how can an employer best capture that passion and commitment from its employees (or freelance associates, for that matter)?

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But all mums work…

The Office of National Statistics ONS in the UK recently stated that the percentage of mothers working with at least one child under the age of 5 has doubled in the last 25 years (it’s 62% now).  For mothers with one or two children under the age of 16 it’s even higher, 76% and 73% respectively.   Lots of surveys also suggest that women do not necessarily want to go out and work, but they feel under economic pressure to do so.

I may be operating from a small statistical sample, but out of all the Mums I have met in the schoolyard, at nursery, at the swimming pool with toddlers in tow, I hardly ever hear any of them say: ‘I really don’t want to work, I want to stay at home all day with the kids, but I can’t because of the money!’  Am I moving in completely the wrong circles or do these surveys not reflect real maternal experience?  Perhaps, shock-horror, they do not ask the questions right?!  As we all know, surveys and statistical figures are so easy to manipulate.

Because all mothers work.  Yes, they work really hard to raise the citizens of the future:  hold and cuddle, make things better, entertain, feed, wash, dress, scold, make them behave, do homework, break fights, talk, listen, cook, clean the house, do the laundry…  Ask any stay-at-home Mum and their day is exhausting, their to-do-list never gets any smaller, and the sheer repetitiveness of it all is sometimes completely discouraging.  So, yes, all mothers work their socks off!  But they don’t always feel appreciated for this ‘invisible’ work.

So is it any wonder that I also hear Mums who would really like to go and work for themselves (for an employer or self-employed) in order to feel appreciated for their skills and knowledge, to earn their own money and not feel totally dependent on someone else (even if that someone else is the state) and also, sometimes, just to get out of the house and have some grown-up conversation that doesn’t revolve solely around the children.

I think that if we interpret these surveys correctly, what we are really hearing is that women want family-friendly working practices, that they want to be able to combine work and family, be there for their children but also be themselves.  And that we’ve still got some way to go before they can achieve that without guilt.

How about you?  Do you honestly enjoy every single moment of your life as a stay-at-home-Mum and feel appreciated by your family and by society?  Do you feel guilty about rejoining the workplace while your children are young?  Do you feel you have achieved a satisfactory balance?  And if you have, please share your secret with us!

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