Career, Dad and Husband
I am a recruitment professional with challenging, busy and responsible job, often requiring me to work long hours and travel. When my children were little, the country was in recession and my income took a fairly heavy hit. Not only did I experience the worry of my livelihood, I also had the challenge of playing the three roles that are very familiar to most working fathers - the need to maintain career progression, the role of dad and also husband. This is a well-worn path, but it is fair to say that you are neither fully briefed nor prepared for it- I certainly felt a lot of pressure to be ’10 out of 10’ on all sides which left very little time nor energy to do anything properly.
The Struggle To Balance Everything
The dreaded ‘triple shift’ became a massive issue for me. I was coming in late from work with a head full of the day’s challenges and ongoing worries about the future and then expected to start job number 2 when I walked through the door; it was right that my wife had some respite from childcare, but switching off professional mode straight into Dad mode was tiring to say the least. As my son, particularly, was a poor sleeper, I had no real choice but to support Kate with the night shifts too - I felt duty-bound to support with night feeds and settling my children and as a result spent a very long time living on 3-4 hours sleep per night.
Physical and Mental Health Impacts
The net effect of this was obvious; I gradually became less and less capable of doing anything properly and felt depressed and anxious as a result. This was initially manageable with ‘mind over matter’, but overtime my performance at work suffered, as did my health. I gained c.2 stone in weight and lost any sense of personal well being. This in turn caused me to quit playing rugby which was an important outlet for me.
Learning To Live Better Lives
Fortunately, circumstances forced our hand. My wife was offered a part-time job (she is a teacher) and to cover the childcare, my boss allowed me to work part-time. This helped the business by reducing salary overheads and enabled my wife and I to gain a greater, first hand understanding of our relative lives at the time.
I learned how to be a stay-at-home dad (worth an essay in itself!) and my wife got to experience the balancing act that I felt I was experiencing. This change of perspective helped us massively and taught me how to be more natural with my children and worry less about work.
Bereavement, Exhaustion and Perspective
There were some other factors that changed my perspective; namely the tragic death of my mother, and also experiencing the impact of exhaustion. After a particularly challenging fortnight I collapsed in the office (I also had a series of bumps in the car) which made me take action. I made a commitment to myself to balance my work / life better and put less pressure on myself.
Fortunately, during my time being a part-time worker, I met other parents whose priorities were different to mine and who were far more content with less. This took away my focus on earnings and my career.
Misplaced Loyalty To Work?
I also met a lot of people through work who had been made redundant during the recession. This had a major impact on me. I saw people who had outwardly done everything right; they had studied hard, got good jobs, prioritised careers and got to a point where they were earning really good money. They had put the company first despite the toll on their health.
When the economy turned, their companies let them go without any sentiment, in some situations without any form of parachute. This made me realise that despite what a company might do to look after people, when times get tough they will do what they have to do to survive; so in other words if you put work first to the detriment of life you might find yourself without either through no fault of your own!
Priorities And The Importance of Me Time
So essentially I made the decision to be more selfish with my time - if I go to sports day, the world will not stop turning. If I refuse a meeting a long way away, it’ll just get re-arranged at a more suitable time. If I get the train rather than drive, I’ll be home quicker etc.
I also trained as a rugby coach and now coach a successful women’s rugby team. This has been amazing for my personal sense of well-being. I have something that is just for me and whilst it does cause the odd argument at home, it stops my more negative behaviours that can self-sabotage at times.
My Life Now
Not perfect, but I’m more in control. Work-wise, I’ve accepted that I’m undergoing a sort of hiatus - my focus is less on my career, and more on my life as a whole. It’s true - I haven’t progressed my career, my earnings have stalled and I’m less fulfilled professionally, but I also have another 20 years to catch up, if and when I want to!
More Efficient And Effective
I’m far more efficient in what I do, more direct in the way I communicate with colleagues and far quicker to push back on demands I think are unreasonable. And guess what? I’m still effective in my job and delivering the results that are expected of me.
I Priortise Being Present
At home, I’m a much more present part of my children’s lives, and whilst I still miss out on a lot due to my working hours, I prioritise what is really important and my family appreciates that. The rugby gives me my ‘me time’ giving me a focus on a passion (and a team of 20+ women certainly keep me grounded!). The main area I need to further develop is my relationship – it’s very hard to keep a focus on that with so much else to do, but it’s a work in progress!
Matt’s Top Tips
Consider your life holistically – there is no point ‘winning’ at work, and ‘losing at home’
Your kids don’t care how much you earn. They care that you make it to their piano recital
Be positive about your job. I moan far too much about work in front of my kids- I need to inspire them to see me as a role model, even though I don’t feel like one sometimes
Find something you are passionate about and do it and protect it fiercely. It is not easy striking an appropriate balance, but your interests are important to you, and again, your kids will love this about you.
If your company is not progressive, leave and don’t look back. They will leave you if they have to too. This might mean a pay cut, but provided this doesn’t impact you too much, it might be the best decision you ever make.
Re-evaluate your status. There is no point being a Director with a fat salary at work, and inconsequential at home. Being a hero at home will make you happier!
If you have a story to share like Matt’s or Will’s I’d love to hear from you!
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