I’m sat in my new office, at my new desk, but the office isn’t an office, it’s my front room and the desk isn’t a new desk it’s a recycled freebie from a friend’s office clear out. There are no phones ringing around me, there are no colleagues chatting and no meetings looming in my outlook calendar. It’s quiet, I have my music playing quietly in the background to keep me company, my dog is close by. I can see out to my garden and the projects that I intend to tackle over the next weekend if I muster up the enthusiasm (it will no doubt rain). Yes I am home, but I am also at work and to some you might be thinking and so what? Well as an institutionalised office worker for the last 20 years managing teams of at times up to 50, I’ve always shared an office with lots of people, this can have its pluses and minuses.
Fear not, this blog is not about to become a woe is me blog ‘I used to have friends I worked with and now I have none’, but I would like to take a moment here to celebrate the positives of office working (yes there are some). The pluses of working so closely with others in an office, or in fact any sociable co-working environment, (unless you are an anti-social introvert who is likely nearing retirement), are the friendships that you make as an inevitable result of spending so much time in each other’s wake of day. Like a lot of people, I have made many great friends throughout my career, some in particular who I shared special moments in my life with, good and bad, and who at the time I just could not imagine not being there to support me from one day to the next (in return I hope that I did the same for them).
You move on from jobs, from teams even and those friendships often fade in a way that you aren’t expecting, experience teaches you this more over time and I found I became more selective over who my work buddies were in my 30’s as a result. Not all work friendships fizzle out with the moving on of jobs and some do survive team moves and office closures. Quite what makes some of these good friendships sustain the test of time and others, not so – is for another blog – but if I can briefly speculate it is most likely born from a shared determination at keeping regular contact. As for other friendships that do not make the grade in terms of ongoing commitment to see one another, the closeness remains, perhaps through the occasional Facebook exchange, like or comment.
I should say at this stage that if any of my former colleagues – who had what both of us would regard as something resembling a friendship e.g. we took an interest in each other’s lives, we laughed, we joked and shared a fondness and concern for one another – then rest assured, I haven’t forgotten you (or the majority of you), I did and still do value that friendship and you can always call me up or PM me if you do feel so inclined to want to see me again. I still think ever so fondly of many of those I have had the pleasure to work with over the years, it’s just when everyone is working full time and planning their lives by 20 or (if they are lucky) 25 days+ holiday a year, friendships inevitably miss out on the sustenance that they need and we just have to accept there will be fall out along the way.
And so, to my new solo career as it is beginning, for the first time in my life I am working from home, alone. An opportune redundancy and rather stressful build up to it, at a time when I was very aware of the fact that I was little more than a drudge around my work place. The nagging feeling that I should be doing something different; that I needed to make something better for myself to be more fulfilled and to make it worth leaving my daughter each and every morning in the hands of other people for various stages of the day. Like a lot of parents, my career meant sacrifices in supporting my daughter and being there for her at times in the day when she might need me, school drop off, school pick up, special assemblies and performances. Some might say, why do you need to be there for school pick up or drop off and they may be right, it is not entirely meaningful every day through a parent’s eyes, but I am sure a child knowing their parent will be there at the end of the day gets a warm and fuzzy feeling inside that isn’t quite the same when off to after school club or a childminder. As well as making your child a little happier by collecting them, the school drop off can be useful in building a network of supportive friends who between you can share in play dates and after school collections if something arises. This is an enriching part of school life for a child, but for parents at work all of the time, it is almost impossible to get to know other parents and build up a support network in the same way, when often working full time means you could benefit all the more from such friendships and support.
Next begs the question of using annual leave to have more of a presence at the school gates and I could see how this looks to be a viable solution from the outside looking in. As an employee, your annual holiday allowance can get swallowed up with the ad-hoc half days here and there – unless you are fortunate enough to have the flexibility to work from home some of the time (which many don’t). Using annual leave for those special school events, you eat in to what should be even more special time as a family in the school holidays. Herein comes the guilt of striving for the balance to do a good job and seem committed to your job and being present in your child’s life. It can be a difficult balance to achieve and requires a good boss who respects the importance of work life balance enough to be able to trust employees to manage their own time and do a good job (an unthinkable concept to some bosses). A good job should be measured by achievements, staff engagement and productivity, not minutes sat at a desk between the hours of 9 – 5. A happy parent will be a happy worker if able to be present for their family whilst managing their own time. That’s not to say that everyone will apply the same responsible approach to such freedom. There will be shirkers and there will be slackers always. Often Managers find it easier (whilst making life very hard for themselves in avoiding the real issues) focussing on time keeping or absence instead of the real cause of the lack of commitment including attitude or skill.
The happiest of work places are where employees can work flexibly and autonomously with a mutual respect for one another’s lives and can foster a team spirit to enable one another to manage their unique personal commitments, whilst striving to get the job done.
My daughter is 8 now and I can see how quickly her childhood is passing, I can’t quite imagine that she will, in just a few years’ time, be at secondary school, though I know it is on the horizon. My daughter needs me more than just at bed time and first thing in the morning, this time is precious and I don’t want to have any regrets once she no longer wants to hang out with me, that I wasn’t here for her enough. So I have jumped the employment, paid each month ship and am going solo.
Even with my long career in financial services, there is specific regulation that ensures clients can be confident in the advice they are being given and this means that I still need to fulfil various training and compliance requirements before I can book my first appointments. So, at the moment I have a lot of start-up costs going out of the door, no money coming in and my savings will soon run out. Am I scared and does this put me off and am I back on Linked in looking for employed work? Absolutely not! I’m liberated, I’m free, yes I miss my former colleagues, but we stay in touch (perhaps until they make new work friends and don’t need solo me any more). I don’t go to bed each night with a sinking feeling about work the next day. I am here for my daughter more, I can keep on top of occasional jobs around the home that would otherwise have been left until the weekend. I can keep my dog company, walk her at lunch time. I realised quickly, that working from home requires a great deal of discipline, but that has been easy to achieve by block booking time in my diary and ensuring I keep to it. Surprisingly, my motivation to be moving things forward with my business means I am not easily distracted. I don’t turn the TV on in the day, I keep my social time with friends to outside of work hours, but I have the freedom to be flexible and importantly, I can choose without explaining to anyone, what I do and when I do it, work or family related and I am trying to enjoy that. It can be easy in trying to be disciplined, to not enjoy the benefits of working flexibly, so I do. I enjoy there are no office politics between me, myself and I, no dull meetings, no meetings that are going nowhere other than to more – going nowhere – meetings. I choose how I spend my time and where my focus is. I do not have anyone micro managing me…..yes no one micro managing me. I feel well, I eat healthier (no office biscuits or cakes!), I stand and walk more (I use to do no more than 700 steps in a day, from car to office chair, to meeting chair, to office chair, to car and home again which will bring horror to the fit-bitters I am sure!). There are moments in the day when I can just take stock of this exciting development in my life and embrace the positives that I can now enjoy. My life with my daughter, family and friends, will no longer be counted, year on year, by annual holiday allowance. When I start earning an income (did I mention that I don’t have one yet?), I know I can look ahead to holidays with my daughter, while we can enjoy these precious years together, and I will cherish every opportunity that I have to be with her, no pay roll systems for me. Will I make it work? Absolutely. Will I work hard? For sure. I will work into the evening when my daughter is asleep and start working before she rises each day if I have to; in order to do a good job for my clients, be successful and be there for her when she needs me and that is all of the motivation that I need.
If you are a parent with that nagging feeling that you need to change your career to get a better work life balance and be with your family more and your employer simply won’t support you in achieving that, I hope this blog will inspire you to not give up on your happiness and your family. I was fortunate that my redundancy came at a good time and I know this doesn’t happen for everyone. If that’s not your destiny, I do hope that you will find a way to be successful in making the change that you need, we only get one shot at life – so make it happen.
I would love to hear from other parents who have been on the same journey of becoming self-employed and have found this to be a positive experience for themselves and their families.
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