When someone is told (or they decide) that their time is limited, at somewhere or something, I’ve observed an almost primal attempt to do more, fit more in, go further or faster, squeeze maximum effort into the remaining time; that or an almost instantaneous acceptance that time is limited so there’s not much point trying now, accompanied by an inevitable decline in performance/enjoyment/participation*.
One of my most recent personal examples of this was when I decided to quit my job. I had a three month notice period, within that time there was leave to use up and in the end some compassionate leave, but when I resigned I had anticipated, and seemingly most other people had also anticipated, that I would feel an instantaneous relief, that the pressure would fall off and life would gradually return to a more balanced state over the following three months. As it happened my Dad died during that period as well, so I’m well aware that brings it’s own pressures but I quit some months before that and the work pressure didn’t fall off instantly as I’d naively hoped. I’ve been thinking about this period a lot and it seems to me that at the point I resigned, the pressure started to climb (from a level that was already demanding more than I’d routinely hope to give to work, and had done for some time), before reaching a newer, higher peak and then what would have normally been followed by a decline was replaced by more important matters, for me at least, of my Dad’s death.
The simple fact was as soon as my time was limited not only did I attempt to perform most of the duties I’d already been doing (granted I relinquished a few but my workload did not drop considerably at the point I resigned). I tried to finish others that had sat out of reach for some time, I prepared handover and context notes, I met with people who needed reassurance/confidence in the future, I negotiated, brokered and contributed to new business and new bids. I did all of this while trying to support a staff group who were perhaps unsurprisingly delighted for me personally, but with some reservations of the impact for them, and I also wanted to give my time and attention to an exit interview process to ensure learning was captured for other colleagues/the organisation’s benefit. So the pressure and demands just kept growing.
I think I was unlucky in the timings in some way, that I didn’t get to also experience the gradual winding up process, instead that was replaced by family business. I cleared my office out one weekend shortly after Dad’s funeral and then took some time out for a holiday before Christmas. I’ll do more holiday posts in due course and Christmas probably deserves a post of it’s own. It wasn’t a bad one, and I’m not the world’s biggest Christmas fan at the best of times, but there was definitely a Dad, and Grandad shaped hole left since last year. A subtle, but constant reminder, that life is short and our time is limited.
So what I hear you ask. I’ve been so lucky with the support I’ve received from my friends and family, in real life and on social media. I can’t tell you how supported I’ve felt by the contact, the tweets, DMs, messages, the cups of tea, the promises of cake – the people who have not ran in the other direction but have stayed put and gently encouraged me to (re-)engage with life. My blogging has suffered over the last few weeks, I’ve just not been feeling the love for it, or for twitter; two avenues for my energy that have always felt so positive in the past. I think part of the challenge is that I was brought us along the lines that if you couldn’t say anything positive, you shouldn’t say anything at all….and I’ve not really been feeling the positivity (yet). I’ve also not been seeing too much positivity in my twitterstream, lots of people moaning and complaining about life/politics/each other/new business/old business/health/religion/anything else you can mention.
Overall I guess I’ve been feeling a residual pressure, like I’m on high alert. I’ve discussed with a few people the cumulative effect of stress and pressure, from work and my family situation, and the impact that has on your performance and health over time. I’ve spent quite a bit of energy trying to understand where I’m at, I’ve felt quite directionless, lacking drive or energy for most things. Until yesterday, when I fell upon my latest theory, the one at the top of the page about time being limited and it’s impact on performance (and perhaps preference). If my theory re work is in anyway accurate (and let’s be clear it’s my theory scribbled on the back of an envelope, and isn’t very subjective at all), but indulge me, if we go with it then I wonder whether the last few weeks have been my self trying to re-establish an equilibrium. They’ve been about recovery, and regrouping, and observing and identifying what it is, or where it is, that I wish to put my energies next. Almost to be expected really, so I’ve no idea why it’s so surprising.
There were a few catalysts this weekend to remember that time is limited, and that this is no dress rehearsal. There were three articles/blog posts that stopped me in my tracks:
1) Crossword master Araucaria reveals in puzzle that he is dying of cancer - I don’t even do crosswords, I struggle on easy ones never mind cryptic, but as I sat yesterday reading the comments on this article I couldn’t help but feel that what really matters in life is what you give, and you might never know what that is. I’m sure that the Rev John Graham knew he had a talent, and knew he had a fan base, but I very much doubt that he knew before his announcement the way in which he had touched so many people’s lives and given such pleasure.
2) Back for Good from Helen Fawkes – I’ve followed Helen’s journey with cancer for some time now, this is her third diagnosis and she writes an incredibly humbling blog sharing the news and ends with the following I know how I’m probably going to die and roughly when it’ll happen. It’s weird having a likely expiration date. I really hope my Best Before is at least 2023. But you know it’s not the years in your life that matter; it’s the life in your years. Once I have my affairs in order I’m not going to dwell on the dying, I will soon have a new list and a whole lot more living to do.
3) Sad News – Alice Pyne became an online sensation when she wrote her bucket list when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and started raising money for charity. Her mum wrote yesterday: Our darling girl, Alice, gained her angel wings today. She passed away peacefully with Simon, Milly and myself by her side. We are devastated and know that our lives will never again be the same, Vicky. 12 January 2013 #nightnightAlice
All of these reminded me that life, and our time, is limited. Why should we wait until we are told we are likely to die to think about how to spend our lives. Why do we get so readily seduced into thinking that life is what we squeeze into weekends or holidays. Number one priority on Alice’s bucket list was to get people to join a bone marrow register, I’m already on it, if you are healthy and wish to join to you can go here and get a spit pack sent to register, simples.
Alice’s second priority was for everyone to have a bucket list. I’m working on it, going to give it some more thought and start compiling. After all, we all have one life, if ever I was aware of that it’s now. I feel like I’ve an opportunity to consider really what I’d like to achieve/see/do and start doing it now. Watch this space….all suggestions very welcome!
* This theory may fall short on a number of occasions, such as when exercising or studying – however once the finish line is in sight, nearly every half marathon/10k runner/undergraduate/teenager I’ve ever seen picks up the pace for the absolute final burst
A couple of weeks ago I made a momentous decision.
I decided to resign from my job.
It is with regret that I am writing to let you know that I have taken the decision to resign as Director of research in practice for adults, and move on from Dartington. I’ve worked for RiPfA for over six years, have enjoyed my time immensely and feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work closely with so many committed and passionate people across the adult social care sector.
I am extremely proud of RiPfA, the support it provides and the progress that it has made to support evidence-informed practice over the past seven years. I will remain in post until the end of November. We are using this opportunity to look at the leadership needs of the organisation over the coming years and we expect recruitment to start later this year.
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you would like to discuss or if you have any questions.
This was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. I love my job and really enjoy the people that I work with, within RiPfA and throughout the social care sector. I’m sure in time I’ll blog some more about the decision, the learning and the stacks and stacks of ideas that I’m not likely to now see to fruition but I hope someone else will take and use. In the meantime the answer to the question I’ve been asked the most is: I don’t know. I have no concrete plans for the future, a stack of ideas, but no job or certain plans so do get in touch if you would like any of them and/or if you know of any opportunities I might be interested in.
The other point I wanted to make was just how lovely most people have been since I shared my decision with them. I have been blown away by the compliments, the support and the regard that people seemed to have for me, as well as for RiPfA.
It really has been a difficult but wonderful week.
So my final thought for now is that if you know someone who you think does a good job, then why not let them know next week. I suspect we all probably underestimate the power of positive feedback and as lovely as it is to hear things now I’m moving on, I probably could have done with hearing them (or believing them) before. Go on, make someone’s day.
If I’m honest with you I’ve spent most of my life struggling to find balance. As a young child I tended to be into things, in an all or nothing kind of way, so if I was reading a book I wouldn’t just read it and put it down, I’d devour it, keep reading until I got to the end, desperate to know more and fully engage with it. That was never really considered a bad thing, who wouldn’t be pleased if their child was into reading. My parents went to great efforts to make sure that we had a balanced upbringing too, so as much as I loved study that wasn’t all I got up to, I was also into Judo and was regularly dragged out onto Dartmoor to go letterboxing, I attended Sunday School like a good girl should (although nothing stopped me asking questions about why, why, why), we learnt to swim at a young age, spent hours down the beach as kids (although I was often found reading on my favourite rock) and generally had great fun.
Finding my balance as a youngster
As I got older it became clear that I was indeed bookish – a curse my Gran laid on me at a young’ish age, imparted with a warning that I should be careful because boys don’t like bookish girls. Obviously I decided that any boys who didn’t like my bookishness weren’t worth worrying about, and to be fair I wasn’t too interested in serious romance, instead being far more interested in leaving home, studying and socialising. I had a whole string of jobs before I got my first ‘proper job’. I worked in a pot pourri factory, selling icecreams and tat at the Model Village, as a chambermaid and a waitress, at a kids club and so on. I also spent several happy years at Sainsburys, working in the bakery and at one stage did consider becoming a Trainee Manager, a relatively tempting prospect as a 17 year old who wasn’t sure about university (no-one in my family had ever been and there was certainly no pressure to attend). The best thing about Sainsburys was that it felt like a big family in the bakery, a loud and rowdy one, but a team nonetheless. I worked hard and played hard, spending hours of time with my colleagues, at work and out and about enjoying the delights that The English Riviera had to offer. When I left for university my position was kept open for Christmas, Easter and summer holidays (luckily living in a tourist town there usually was extra work available when I was on holiday from my studies).
As a student it was totally accepted, in fact almost expected, that you had to work a lot to afford to live, so I had Sainsburys out of term time and I worked on the university bank staff (ran a post room, worked as a student warden, odd bit of waitressing) during the academic term to pay my bills and afford to socialise. I also volunteered on a number of projects, every Wednesday afternoon (on community projects) and about an evening a week on the Nightline service. As a PhD student I studied full time, lectured at a neighbouring university and ran tutorial groups and did marking at my own. Alongside the social and volunteering. I never had a minute to myself, and that was considered perfectly acceptable – and I rationalised it by considering it all good experience for my future. I guess it’s worth also acknowledging that I was at uni in the days before twitter or facebook (thank god) but it means social distractions were either face to face coffee gatherings or nights out, or phonecalls or texts, and occasionally the odd letter was written.
My first ‘proper job’ was as a lecturer in Dublin. I worked very hard (preparing all my lectures for the first time took hours of research and preparation) and I played very hard, I also worked quite hard at making friends and building a social life (and yes it did feel like work for the first while). It was another all encompassing experience, oh and how could I forget, I also finished the writing up of my PhD in my first year lecturing, luckily I got a solid summer holiday to immerse myself in it. It was only when I returned to the UK to work briefly for the Civil Service that I ever had to consider my work-life balance as a construct. I had to clock in to work for the first time since Sainsburys, and you were actively discouraged from working over your allocated hours in a week. Of course it did happen, but without prior arrangement there would be no pay for it, and it really wasn’t seen as a sign of anything other than your own poor time management. I was living in Wales and working a lot in London at the time and as much as I’d have loved to have worked longer hours when I was in the London office, that was frowned upon, so I spent a lot of evenings wandering the parks of London or eating JS salad in my hotel room! The other joy of working in my job was that although you had a work laptop, you couldn’t connect to the network without hideous amounts of security VPN stuff (which I never did understand) but it meant you couldn’t meaningfully do anything if you weren’t on the network anyhow.
I didn’t last long in the civil service, as much as the enforced work-life balance was great, it did something very damaging to my motivation. Well I’ve always considered that it impacted on my motivation, it might also have been the work I was doing, or the feeling of being very small and insignificant in the face of huge amounts of bureaucracy. Either way I moved on to a role that was more in keeping with my previous experiences, I was part of a much smaller organisation and felt very able to influence, contribute and shape it. Alongside this the other joy of a small organisation was that no-one ever discouraged you from working long hours, there was no mechanism for clocking in or out, travel was also a part of the role and the onus very firmly placed on yourself to protect your own work-life balance.
Therein lies the rub. I’ve just never been that good at finding that balance, if my work/hobbies/social interest me then I’ll throw myself into it. That’s just who I am. What I’m slowly growing to realise is that is no bad thing, but it is also not sustainable without support. I can not keep working longer hours in the false economic belief that I’m doing more – well I can, but it’s simply not worth it. There has been a lot written about this of late, for example an article from the Harvard Business Review Is your smartphone making you less productive? (I’m not blaming the technology myself although it definitely doesn’t help), an accompanying book Sleeping with your smartphone: how to break the 24/7 habit and change the way you work, a similar focus from Time Why companies should force employees to unplug and all of this alongside the backdrop of the EU Working Time Directive that limits employees to a maximum 48hour work week (except in the UK where an opt out clause means that employees are allowed to work more than 48hours but can not be forced to do so). Geoffrey James sums it up in his article Stop Working More than 40 Hours a Week where he points out that quality suffers from long hours, that it sets a bad example to colleagues and staff, and that the law is in place for a reason.
Anyone who has browsed my blog before, or knows me at all, will understand that my Dad is terminally ill with cancer at the moment. Not surprisingly, this has had a huge impact on our family life. It has also meant that I’m find it increasingly difficult to focus so solely on work. It’s not that I care any less about work, just that in the face of life or death, it takes a back seat. I’ve also been talking to Dad about what makes me happy, and what the meaning of life is (or could or should be) – nothing obvious here, we decided it is for each and every person to determine for themselves, my last attempt to define what makes me happy is here, but on this topic well worth a read is The Happiness Product from @mistergough.
So it feels like work and family life is a little out of kilter, so what am I going to do about it? Two months ago I signed up for the Torbay Half Marathon but have done very little (and very sporadic) training since, am going to get back on that this week. I’ve also just started a module with the Open University, focusing on Creativity, Innovation and Change I’m hopeful that it will provide me with some practical hints and tips to support me to perform better in my role at work, thereby improving things for myself and my colleagues and making me more efficient at work. If nothing else it will force a balance in my working hours, in a more positive way than a clocking in and out machine might, put simply there are only 24 hours in a day and if I am to run this half marathon, study, work and have enough time to see family and friends I need to realign the allocations somewhat.
I’d be very interested to hear from anyone reading this how they manage their own work-life balance, or whether indeed it’s not a problem. I suspect that this will be an ongoing focus for me over the next while (and indeed possibly my entire working life) so all thoughts are very welcome. Thanks.
A young boy I took loads of photos of when I was on holiday – a tenuous balance photo – more here!
Pick what you’re interested in…
- Mentioned @sightsavers @macmillancancer @iCancerVirus in my blog post on #charity #fundraising wld love yr feedback georgejulian.co.uk/2013/05/18/pos… tweeted 32 minutes ago
- @glittrgirl sweaty? clammy? double moist ;) tweeted 34 minutes ago
- @glittrgirl mizzle? mist? damp? tweeted 38 minutes ago
- @yhCommsGuy ps Think I'd prefer it if the two outside dots were ears and much bigger than the inner one ;) tweeted 50 minutes ago
- @yhCommsGuy was in a recruitment agency window, guess not much call for #socmed roles (chat or conversation) in Newton Abbot!! Thanks tho. tweeted 51 minutes ago
- see georgeblogs.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/a-c… for e.g. of choosing not to engage once it gets difficult - sooo short sighted @Annemcx @mikey3982 @stevebridger tweeted 1 hour ago
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