Part 1 – My life, my choice.
Many years ago, I lived for a short time next to a man who had three jobs. He had a full-time day job and then in the evenings he either worked in an Indian restaurant and as a taxi driver as time permitted. He had a wife and at least three teenage children and worked to support his family and to give them the best start that he could. In order to achieve his goals, he chose to work long hours and I am sure did not have many days off.
Today I listened to an interview with a teacher who was doing VSO in Malawi. He commented that all the children in Malawi were keen to learn even though some classes consisted of 140 pupils and there was little or no sanitation. The reason they wanted to learn, he said, was to be the best they could be and get on and improve their lives and the lives of those around them.
I read a book a few years ago which discussed the concept of dependency. Basically, it said that everyone and everything is dependent on other people or other things and that no-one and nothing could exist totally in isolation. At the very least you use stuff in your life that other people have made, and most could not live without the usual utilities. Every sentient being is dependent on others, and the natural world that surrounds them. You are no different.
From this I would say that we are all dependent upon other people and they are dependent upon us, however self-sufficient we pretend to be. We are all connected and have a role in the wellbeing of everyone in our sphere.
I keep coming across exchanges on social media where people discuss work life balance.
I recently came across a discussion about a four day working week. Could the desire for a 4-day week mean that they did not enjoy their work? One comment was made that while they still had passion for their career, they had other passions that they wanted to pursue whether that was family or whatever. My initial thought went to my taxi driving neighbour who could not afford the choice of working less if he was to achieve his goals.
I have no doubt that most people earning below the national average wage would like to work less and have a better balance in their lives but just don’t feel that they can afford it and still have the sort of lifestyle that we have all come to expect – I have been in more than one house in my career as an accountant where there was no indoor toilet!
Another comment I came across on LinkedIn was that only those who already have an adequate standard of living can afford the luxury to choose their own “work life balance”. I have known many people who would like the choice but just could not afford it.
Having said all that, if you think you can afford to choose to work less, that is fine. It’s a choice and at your own risk.
The 6-day week
For much of my working life I have chosen to work a 6 day week, sometimes 7 days. These have often been long days and a couple of times I recall working through the night. That was my choice.
I had a family and I still found time to be with them. So, what was behind my choice? It’s all about goals and what you want to achieve.
My own mother, who had 3 children, worked full time all her life. She got us ready for school and then went to work as a PA to a senior government official. She did this until she retired at the age of 65. The legacy that she left was that each of us has a strong work ethic, and a desire to get things done. One became a teacher, another had her own business with her husband, and yours truly became an accountant and I am on my second business, now along with my wife and business partner.
I think our mother’s example became ingrained into our DNA. Our parents always struggled for money and as we grew up, there was the constant message, both spoken and, in our surroundings, to do well and improve our lives, especially financially.
We could not help but copy her work ethic, she was a real grafter. The question will be whether we have passed on this batten in our turn to the next generation?
However, consider this. If you come from a hard working family background, is it inevitable that you will have the same application. I don’t think so. In my case it was my future father in law, a cattle farmer, many years ago, who lit the business flame and showed me how to stop being a wage slave and become both resilient and self-reliant. Drenching cattle, castrating calves, sawing off horns and chasing animals gives you a glimpse of life so far removed from the end terrace 3 bedroom house in the town where I grew up. One of my sisters went through a divorce and so she needed to support her sons and get them through school. My other sister married a man who already had a business and became embroiled in that. So, in each case there was a trigger that brought it out. But it was there, sleeping, just waiting for something to wake it up. A legacy from our upbringing.
Ultimately, we all had a goal that drove us forward and made us choose to work long hard hours. We all have families, who all turned out normal and we have all improved ourselves and become financially sound.
I therefore understand where my neighbour with 3 jobs and the schoolchildren in Malawi get their motivation. They have a goal and a strategy to achieve it.
So, what is the answer?
Should you start your own business?
Should you buy a business and bypass the initial years of toil while you get established?
I’ll get to that in the second part of “Balance or no Balance” coming shortly.
Balance or no balance?
Part 2 – Should you start your own business?
I realise that virtually all of the population will tell you how to run a business. But in reality, there is much more to running a business than most of them realise and it is only a minority that are either capable of doing it successfully or willing to do take on the responsibility.
You can do courses on management, accounting, sales, marketing and the rest but this does not equip you to run a business. I have known people who could not make it in business despite having all the qualifications. That is because most businesses are founded on very basic principles and plain raw human instinct.
I have also known many excellent business people who were useless at school but were practical and had honed their people skills outside of the lessons. They learned their business skills in the playground or after school, possibly getting into trouble in the process. They were prepared to work hard, to take the knocks and to trust in their own abilities to get things done no matter what was stacked against them. They were resilient. They can now employ the ones who did well at school, went on to do degrees and perhaps a professional qualification. But who pulls the strings at the end of the day?
Do you have what it takes?
Can you work under pressure? Not everyone can think rationally while everything around them is becoming white hot. Can you focus on the matter in hand while everyone around you is panicking and wants answers to their urgent questions and for you to tell them what to do? Now this is not the inevitable outcome of being in business, but it happens from time to time.
Can you direct effort and organise resources, getting people to do what you want and not necessarily what they want to do. If you are at the helm, it is your responsibility to steer the ship and you cannot walk away or delegate that. Can you do it?
Are you prepared to never disconnect 100% from your business? There is no going home at 5PM on a Friday night and forgetting about it till 9AM on Monday morning. It is 365 and 24/7.
Are you really in business?
If you are in business, and I mean really in business, you never get away from it totally. Your mind is constantly on the alert in case you have missed something, or alternatively stumble upon an opportunity perhaps coming into contact with a potential new client or customer.
So, what do I mean by “really being in business?” I am not going there. It’s a minefield and I can sense the hate mail that could be coming my way. I know what I mean. You may think you know what I mean. You may have your own view on what “really being in business” means. They may all be the same, or not. You may be right.
I firmly expect that there will be some of you who will vehemently disagree with my views. That is fine. But amongst people who have built up significant businesses and now employ 5, 10, 20 or more staff, I don’t think there will be that many who disagree with me.
These people will know what it means to be in business. Generally speaking, they are resilient, clear thinking and focused and can cope with the pressures (and probably enjoy them) and accept that these go with the territory. They are however a minority of the population.
Where am I going?
So, where am I going with this? Well, if the vast majority of the population want to be employed and there are a minority of people who can create the environments in which these people can prosper, should they not be encouraged to do it.
There is so much said in the media these days about not working too hard, not working more than say 25 hours a week and avoiding stress, because it is unhealthy. It is no wonder that people struggle to get a business off the ground. It takes effort and commitment and dedication. It cannot be built on a 35 hour week, unless perhaps when you are the only employee. If you have established a goal that you truly believe in and are committed to achieving, then there is a price to pay. If you are not prepared to pay the price, go and get a job.
But if you think you have what it takes to establish and grow a business, then there is more. You owe it to yourself to try and in doing so, you will also fulfil a duty to others around you.
Do you have a duty to be in business?
If we all depend on one another to a greater or lesser extent, is it not right that those that can, should do, so that the rest can do what they are good at in an environments created by those that can create it. In other words, if you are able to set up and run your own business, then you are contributing to the world around you by creating employment opportunities and supporting those who work for you.
Don’t get me wrong here. I am not saying that everyone who goes into business does it to support his or her fellow man. That is not the motivation for me or anyone else. But should there not be an acknowledgement that there is a minority of the population who have just that little bit extra to offer, and they should not in any way be discouraged from creating a business that can employ others.
The Work v Play Balance
There was a time when most people worked considerably longer hours than they do now. We are fortunate that things have changed.
But what about the current working environment. Working hours and sleep probably account for the majority of your life. So, why is work so commonly portrayed as a grind and a chore, something to dread going to in the morning and to escape from at night. Wouldn’t it be healthier to have the attitude that this thing is an important part of your life and so you need to be able to enjoy your time there, knowing you have a purpose and what you are doing is important.
Is that an impossible dream? How do you go about changing attitudes to work?
Many years ago, I heard a story from a car factory. I do not recall where it was. On the production line there was a hierarchy but the ones at the bottom were the people who “just fitted the wheels”. Then it was pointed out that if a wheel was not fitted correctly, it probably had the greatest propensity for causing a serious accident than almost any other part of the car. I do not know if the ones higher up the hierarchy changed their point of view but as I understand the story, it made a considerable difference to the wheel fitters who now saw themselves as a critical part of the car assembly process, improving morale and changing attitudes in the process.
Given that everyone in a business has a role and without them the whole would be slower and less efficient, what can we do to improve morale and change attitudes in our own businesses. And if we can do it, and it makes a difference, will that not encourage others to do the same. Would this lead to more enjoyment and satisfaction at work?
Something to think about anyway.
Passions v financial stability
Those who speak about a work life balance usually want to work less and have more time for their other “passions”. But consider this:
1. We all depend upon someone or something in everything we do. You may decide that you can afford to reduce your working time but inevitably you are depending on a narrower band of customers or clients for your financial wellbeing, increasing your risks.
2. If you have the skills and the internal strengths to run a business, why would you not want to do just that, knowing that you have risen to the challenge and in doing so, enabled others to prosper under the umbrella of your business. We currently have 28 people who depend on our company to provide their livelihoods. It gives them the wherewithal to buy houses, cars and take holidays etc. It’s quite a burden and not everyone can do it. But if you think you have what it takes, why would you not want to do it?
3. What legacy will you leave behind you? I like to think that the biggest legacy you can leave your children is the example of how you lived your life. I will leave you to interpret that as you wish but for me it is the example set by my own mother. Our children will have seen us working hard and building businesses from scratch, overcoming sometimes seemingly insurmountable problems and holding it all together under pressure. I think it gives them resilience and an inner strength to know that the same blood flows through their veins, and that they can do the same if they choose to do it.
4. If you currently have sufficient income to support your current choice of work life balance, what happens if your circumstances or the economy change? Can you find a way back to financial stability? Have you built the reserves you need? Now, these reserves may be a cash pot to keep you going or might be a level of experience that you can draw on that means that you are useful to someone and can generate an income. You do not exist in isolation so on whom are you or will you be dependent? What happens if they do not deliver?
This is not a political manifesto
I have no doubt that many of you will be thinking they know which way I voted in the last few elections. This has nothing to do with politics. Anyway, they would probably be wrong. It is my personal view on life and business, and I think it is equally at home in any part of the political spectrum, except perhaps at the extremes.
It is one of the wonderful things about where we live that we can all have different views and feel free to express them. We can also freely agree to disagree.
When it comes to a “work life balance” there is no right or wrong. We all make choices about what price we are prepared to pay to achieve our goals. You do have goals, right, or is your goal just to work less on the same income?
I have made my choices and will continue to do so. I will work to fulfil my goals and if that means 6+ days a week, so be it. I have a 10 year plan and I am only 6 months into it. I have my goals, personal and business. I have accepted the contract and the price payable.
By the way don’t come the c**p about working smarter not harder, because you need to do both. There are a lucky few for whom the dice have fallen right, and they have been successful without great effort. The rest of us must plan and graft.
You now know my views. You may agree with them or not. That’s fine.
But now, you make your own choice.