I am sat here at Düsseldorf airport, hoping to find a way back to London after my earlier flight was cancelled due to heavy snow. When I do finally get back to England, it will be the first time I’ve seen my family in a couple of months. So I thought I would use the spare time I have here at the airport to share my thoughts about work-life balance, and how it has changed for me over the years.
If I were to write an autobiography, it might include business trips to European capitals, a company party in a London nightclub where Blondie played live on stage just a short distance from where we danced and drank free beer.
Barbecues by the Rhine. Golf in the hills of the Eifel. People who believed in me when I didn’t. Sailing across the Eiselmeer in Holland. Taking a group of competition winners to the 2006 FIFA World Cup tournament. Volunteering to spend a week in Glasgow, where my desire to see Scotland was greater than my fear of giving speeches! Friendships and camaraderie. My career has been good to me. I am very grateful.
I used to live and work in the same community. My colleagues came to my wedding, one was my best man. My work made a contribution to the town in which I lived. I felt proud as I transported the ballot boxes around in a little Bedford HA van on election night. I was excited when I helped get the gritting lorries ready for heavy snow, just as I was when I helped to deliver brand new wheelie bins to local residents. Yes, I began as a bit of an odd-job man. And as the council was a large local employer, my work life and private life were partly merged. When my father had his leg amputated, I called a friend of mine at the council and he immediately arranged for handrails to be fitted around our home. Even though I knew he would have done this for anyone, I still found it very touching. I served my employer and my community, and as members of that community, they served us. It was nice. It was really nice.
That all changed when I moved away, worked for a larger company, became a career man. Obviously distance played a big part in this, but I also wanted a new image. I no longer wanted to be that odd-job man who had just left school, where stories of my youth blended with stories of my work. So I kept my work and private life strictly separate. The weekend was like a holiday, with no reminders of the office. And once I got into social media, Facebook was for friends, LinkedIn for colleagues.
Things changed again when I moved to Germany, taking my family with me. The four of us were alone in a foreign country, and to begin with, my employer was the main rock on which we could lean for help. We lived just 4 km from our headquarters. My wife joined the company’s gym. My kids often visited me at work. They brought their friends to watch a theatre production held in our large campus, and a couple of our friends came with us to watch the World Cup Final at the same venue. Germany versus Argentina, four Brits dressed up, draped in the German colours, it was so much fun, and our photograph appeared the next day on our intranet site so that all my colleagues could be in no doubt who I was supporting!
The company weaved its way in and out of many aspects of my life, of our lives. It was nice. It was really nice.
Then a new chapter in our life began, where my family returned to England to pursue their own education and career goals, while I remained in Germany to continue to pursue mine. It was tough. It was really tough.
A couple of years later, I heard the following equation on a podcast, which I think originated from Shinzen Young:
S = P x R
Suffering (S) equals pain (P) times resistance (R)
And I realised that I had accepted my new situation, thus my resistance had reduced to zero and there was no longer any suffering. I came to appreciate my life in two wonderful countries, with a regular drive between the two, taking in Holland, Belgium and France en route.
I draw on the pain – which is still present – to push myself towards fulfilling my potential. I run further, I learn more and I experience life more fully. I take on bigger challenges so that I may create an opportunity which will return the balance to my life.
And who knows where my efforts will take me.
Inspired by books like Synchronicity – the inner path of leadership by Joseph Jaworski and The Possibility Principle by Mel Schwartz, I like to think that I will continue to participate in the unfolding of the universe, which will carry me along on this extraordinary journey we call life. If it were to carry me back to the island I left 9 years ago – and as a participant in this unfolding, I could influence this – I wonder how I might fit in, how I might adjust after becoming accustomed to such a different lifestyle.
I have a feeling that living, working and serving in the same community would provide the perfect solution to this challenge, where I could share my life with those around me and continue to feel a strong sense of purpose in everything I do.
That’s what work–life balance means to me, how about you?
Thank you for reading.