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Read me like a book by starting at the beginning

Sort Out Your Work Life Balance

Date - 30 July 2016/ Category - Personal Lessons
Personal lessons

Throughout this blog I’ve tried to steer clear of talking about what happened to me. I think there are better books at doing that and in all honesty to date I’ve not really achieved anything of note.

But when it comes to work life balance I think there are some things I’ve been through that are worth sharing. People like Warren Buffet (investor) and Sir Alex Ferguson (football manager) are luckier than they realise when it comes to favourable work life balances.

These two stalwarts of success, polar opposites in terms of industry, share a common central work life balance that’s rare amongst most business owners, managers or leaders.

They were able to sacrifice a family life for their careers, gaining a huge amount of time to devote to their endeavours as a result and yet their families were happy to let them do it.

This just isn’t the case for the majority of us.

For the majority of us have no choice but to balance work and a private life, not because our families don’t care about our devotions but because in truth having a private life away from work is normal and our families need us.

While Buffet and Ferguson are extraordinary individuals, undoubtedly this 24 hour devotion to their passion had an impact on their capacity for work.

Imagine being able to work 24 hours a day, that’s twice the potential experience and wisdom of most of us, it would have huge effects on your potential for achievement.

Yet for the majority this isn’t possible. We have families that need us.

We have children that get sick and normal family lives that means 5pm-8pm is simply out the window. In fact as I’m writing this blog, it’s 9pm and I’ve just sat down to sift through the frankly terrible mass of words I’ve written over the past few days. My brain is tired but here I am trying to relate some lessons to you.

I didn’t write this book in one hit. I didn’t even write it in a few weeks. I wrote it whenever I got chance and invariably that’s at night.

Often ideas sprung to mind at the most inappropriate times. I could be out walking the dog, running around a soft play area or just cooking dinner. The only way to not forget them was to email myself.

In one weekend I sent myself 54 emails; but sending those emails allowed me to carry on with the family life that I valued. It’s not an efficient way of working; but it’s the best I can do given the circumstances.

People ask me if money could ever change me. I know it won’t because of what I’ve been through and the sacrifices I’ve had to make to get here.

I’ve literally had less than nothing. I’ve been up to my eyeballs in debt.

I’ve been afraid to answer the phone and only gone out at night. I’ve been evicted and had my things repossessed. Yet through all of this one memory stands out among the crowd. It’s the one memory that defines my attitude to work.

I remember making a small victory for a now long forgotten sale and when I got home I opened my cupboard to find two things for dinner. A tin of tuna and a tin of chopped tomatoes.

Without much hesitation I remember opting to eat the tin of chopped tomatoes for my food that day because I wanted to save the tuna for a real celebration.

I get annoyed when I see people complain that the minimum wage is too low, or that benefits are getting cut. They should try working 17 hours a day for nothing, for less than nothing; and being told by the world that you’re a failure.

It didn’t even occur to me at the time I made that decision that I had no food for tomorrow.

That’s what dedication does to you. It gives you tunnel vision. I was so focused on my business that a major red flag like having no food didn’t even register with me.

It’s a sad state of affairs that the government doesn’t support budding entrepreneurs like they support job seekers, but that’s a whole conversation for another day.

Shortly after tuna gate I had to leave my house because I couldn’t afford to keep it. It wasn’t that I didn’t have money coming in, but every penny was being soaked up by the running costs of my business; biggest of all being keeping my stock in a warehouse. I was profitable but I didn’t have the cash flow to cover all my bills.

So I chose, along with my dog to give up a bed, give up a shower, give up heating and to move into my warehouse because the business came first.

For a year I slept in a sleeping bag, next to my dog on a concrete floor in a freezing cold warehouse; yet even this didn’t seem odd to me.

The truth was, at this time I had nothing to live for except the faith in my own abilities. I was so focused on the future that I didn’t realise I was drowning in the present.

Then something happened. I met a girl and I went from sleeping on the floor of a warehouse 7 days a week, to sleeping in a bed for 2 of them. There was one problem though. In order to see her it was a 16 hour round trip every weekend.

The girl was called Chloe, and she lived on an island off the coast of England called the Isle of Man.

Somehow I scrapped together the money to go see her every weekend. I think I cancelled my work phone to take it out of my cash flow.

The 16 hour trip each week became a way of life but for those 2 days my life was perfect and that made going back to reality really hard.

Words can’t describe the weight that was lifted off my shoulders when I went to visit her, I didn’t have to be afraid to go outside on those days.

I remember that one day as I was due to leave her parents house I just broke down; I cried for the first time in years. The reality of how bad my life was had hit home because I has found something more important to me than my business; I had found a family.

Yet I got up and carried on. I think in part this is due to my upbringing. I’m an only child with relatively old parents; my dad was 42 when I was born.

When I was a kid I was brought up by nannies. My parents gave me a good education but they weren’t forthcoming with emotion. When I left home to go to University at 18 I don’t think I called them for 6 months.

I’m the type of person that can talk to hundreds of people but doesn’t need anyone. I’m happy in my own company and I choose my friends based on if they add value to my life. You could put me on a desert island with some wood and I’d be fine.

At the time I started seeing Chloe I was working 17 hour days and had nothing to show for it but I didn’t care. I didn’t want the money. That sounds odd but for me it the credit I wanted, that’s all. I was driven by a desire to be a success and the more I failed the more drive I gained.

But rent and business rates were basically soaking up my profit, so this meant that to anyone that looked I was poor, despite covering great distances to get my business off the ground.

If falling in love wasn’t enough to make me change my ways, it finally took something bigger to change the course of my life forever; a little girl.

At the time I didn’t have any grandparents left, I could count my closest friends on one hand and I didn’t really understand what it meant to be close to anyone. Up until now it was easy to be an emotional island, but my perspective on life was about to change thanks to a little girl.

When my daughter was born I managed to take a day off from my 17 hour routine. A single day, and then I went back to my warehouse to sleep on a concrete floor.

People think that being a dad changes you on day one but it doesn’t. Women get nine months head start on men when building a relationship with their child, so for me on day one there wasn’t a big change, there wasn’t a lightning bolt, but gradually over time my point of view started to move.

After having my arm twisted by Chloe I started to extend my weekends to 4 days with my new family, and 3 days at the warehouse. I moved everything I could onto my laptop and started to work remotely.

Up until now I’d felt duty bound to run my business from an office because that seemed like the kind of thing a businessman would do, but the shift to working off a laptop was an unavoidable necessity and when I made the change it was remarkable only by how none of my clients noticed.

It’s amazing how our predefined ideas can shape the way we work without us even realising it. As I write this I’m left wondering how many sleepless nights on that concrete floor could have been avoided if I had made this change earlier?

But the 3 days on/4 days off routine still lasted for a year until one Monday as I was dropping my little girl off at the child minder, she crawled over to me and cried because I was leaving.

Up until that point although I had missed my daughter, the security of knowing she didn’t miss me had kept me going. My actions weren’t really affecting her even though the set up was pretty challenging for Chloe and I.

For 5 years I had been going in one direction, purely focused on reaching the light at the end of the tunnel and in that moment I stopped and realised it wasn’t just about me anymore. From this moment on I was working for my family and the set up needed to change.

That night I wrote up my CV and applied for jobs. Within a month I had a full time job and had left my dream behind.

It’s funny how we can block out normal thought processes because we feel we are going somewhere even if we are really stood still or going backwards.

The fact that we’ve put so much into something often means we don’t want to give up but in life we have to be able to fail in order to succeed.

Sometimes we have to fail so that we can change direction and start again, but this time with the knowledge learnt from the past to make success more likely. Provided you can learn from failure then it will be hugely constructive.

Sadly for me I messed up my work life balance and jeopardised my future with my family to follow my dream and I will never quite get over that.

So here’s some words of advice. Everyone’s family situation is different. Some families will give you lots of free space, others will want to suffocate you. But you need to have a reality check; after all family is one of the cards in your deck that you must play with as much as the next.

Chapter Summary:

• Don’t be a dick

Read our next blog post “Don’t drive down the motorway the wrong way”.

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family, balance,