One of Kim’s friends told a great story about Kim at her funeral.
Kim was cleaning the house and the kids were home and bored and in the way.
The house needed to be cleaned. She had to do it.
And then it occurred to her.
She didn’t have to.
She turned of the vacuum cleaner, turned to the kids and said, “it’s a beautiful day, let’s go to the pool.”
She decided not to waste those precious moments and opportunities. She took the kids swimming. Laundry can be done after they’re in bed. Floors can gather a little dust.
There are some things that have to be done – they just have to. But mostly, we’ve convinced ourselves they have to.
If we don’t do it, who will?
In some cases, no one. They won’t get done.
In some cases, we’re doing it because we’ve convinced ourselves we’re the only one who can or will.
When Kim worked her first job she used to bring paperwork home with her every night. She was home but she hadn’t really left work.
She put in hours every night finishing paper work that had to get done.
“Do it at work,” I said.
“I don’t have time,” she answered.
I convinced her that if she did it at home and it just magically got done, her bosses would assume everything was ok and it would continue like this forever. If, instead, she did it at work, her bosses would understand that this was part of work and that if it was important then something else would have to give.
If not everything can be done during the day then they would have to decide whether they needed to bring in another therapist or revise how the work was done.
But this isn’t about Kim.
It’s about you.
How much are you doing because it just has to get done?
Maggie and I met someone last week in London who has an hour commute each way to work. That’s not so unusual there. He leaves around eight in the morning and his wife picks him up at the train station at ten at night to bring him back home.
He has to. He won’t get everything done if he doesn’t.
He’s doing it just for now.
I asked him if his managers will come to expect this of him and that if he cuts back from a twelve hour work day to even ten will it look as if he’s underperforming.
He said, this could be a problem.
I urged him to change now. He’s a wonderful man who is running a great team building products people love and depend on. He makes sure the people he manages leave at a reasonable hour because he knows how important that is.
He needs to treat himself with the same kindness that he shows other people.
Of course, that’s true for all of us. But I digress.
It’s not that I don’t work a lot and work a long day. I’m just lucky enough to be able to break it up with time with friends or time at the gym or an afternoon working at a coffee shop.
Lucky? Sure. Lucky that I was able to make it work, but it was a conscious decision.
A month ago Maggie and I were in Paris where the attitude towards work is very different. It’s not that people don’t work hard and accomplish a great deal. But most of the people we encountered work a reasonable day. It’s illegal for them to handle work emails after work or on weekends. They take a lot of vacations and there seem to be a lot of official days off.
Of course I’m overgeneralizing about the people in these two cities, but Londoners and Parisians don’t understand each other’s attitude towards work.
In France the life-work balance is very important.
We lose that perspective in the US. Work isn’t what you do here, work is who you are.
We ask, “what do you do for a living?” before we ask, “what music do you like?”
I was texting with someone this morning who is too busy. She has a long commute to work, she works so much that she ends up coming home and going to bed.
That’s not good.
I know she feels she has to. They’re depending on her at work.
But what if she put in a reasonable day, worked really hard while she was there, and then left at a reasonable hour?
If that’s not enough for them then nothing will be enough for them.
She needs to be as kind to herself as she is to others or else it impacts the energy and time she has left to give to herself and the things that might matter to her.
She tells me I don’t understand. I’m lucky that my work is flexible.
Yes, I’m lucky. But it also required a decision. I had to leave the field I loved the best. I had to stop doing the work I loved the most. I had to not take a job offer because it would have meant moving my kids away from their grandparents and Kim away from the world she loved most.
She said she would go. She meant it. And if it had just been the two of us the equation might have been different but I love that our daughters could be with their grandparents.
Before she died, Kim was encouraging me to reconsider. She had me interview for a job where I would have had to live most of the time in California. The constraints were different.
I interviewed. The job wasn’t right for me. I wasn’t right for the job.
One of the things they asked me was if I could change from this world of being a consultant and contractor to being an employee.
I don’t know.
I may have missed the flexibility.
There’s the cliche that no one lies sick and dying thinking, if only I’d worked more.
Elena and Kim didn’t have time for this reflection.
Elena was too young and went to quickly. Kim’s accident left her immediately unable to have such reflections in the three days she lay in the hospital bed.
I had very little regrets about the times we spent together.
We spent a lot of time together. We did wonderful things.
What amazes me are the people who have lost someone and still don’t realize how short life is and how important it is to live it.
I still think now and then about the trip to Berlin where Kim stayed behind because she was needed.
Kim never said she was staying behind because she had to. She stayed behind because she wanted to. There were people she wanted to help out. Co-workers who would be unduly stressed if she went.
That was sweet.
She didn’t make that choice all the time. This was special because a co-worker was getting married.
She knew she didn’t have to stay and work and most times she wouldn’t. This wasn’t were life-work balance being off. This was her making a life-life choice to help someone.
For the most part, Kim understood life-work balance. For her, it was people that mattered.
She’d look at someone at work and say, “what’s wrong honey” and mean it.
She chose to stay at a hospital where the pay wasn’t great, where she had many frustrations, because they made it easy for her to take time away to travel with me on trips or to just spend a day watching Maggie play Rugby.
People thought she too was lucky because her time was flexible.
Lucky? Maybe. They didn’t know what she’d given up for this flexibility. I guess, lucky in the sense that she was able to find a place and position that allowed her this flexibility.
Kim worked a short day when appropriate and a longer day when needed. She worked hard at work and then she came home.
They fired her after twenty years without any warning.
It wasn’t personal.
Not to them.
They had fired every part-timer like her.
Thank goodness she had life-work balance.
The next day when they hired her back she was able to think about it and decide if it was still the best thing for her.
It was. Some people thought, “lucky for her.” I thought, “lucky for them.”
Your job probably cares less about you than you think.
Next time you spend all that time because you “have to”, stop and think, “do I?”
What are the things that this “have to” is keeping you from doing in the rest of your life.