It’s been just over a year. 12 months. 52 weeks. 365 days. 8760 hours and over half a million minutes. And yet it feels like a lifetime. Not in a “you get less for murder” sort of way but in a “I can’t believe how quickly that year has flown – I wish I’d done it much sooner” way!
I am now into year two of my second career – working for myself with my work fitting around my life after sixteen years of working for others and my life fitting around their work. Sixteen years as a number. Sixteen years of increasingly unreasonable, untenable, unrealistic and unhealthy demands which stretched the emotional elastic band to breaking point. Sixteen years of a drip, drip, drip of fighting against the compromising of my values and integrity so that even though you still recognise yourself in the mirror you rely on denial and self delusion to erase the memory of some of the things you have said and done in the name of what was “right for the organisation”. Sixteen years of saying “yes” when you should have been saying “why?” or “are you kidding me?!”.
Working for yourself changes all that. You are the boss. You make the rules. You can be yourself. That is the greatest joy for me in my annus mirabilis; I have made decisions that work for me; that work for my happiness and my wellbeing.
The practical reality of this means seeing my wonderful wife and darling daughter whenever I want; being truly present in their lives, not just being physically at stuff whilst really spending the time thinking about the diary, the inbox, the awful conversations I was facing; fighting the anxiety of the looming and mounting deadlines and the work that was piling up for ever minute I was away from the office. It means taking on the right type and amount work to be challenged but not too much so there is not enough oxygen to breath. It means only working with people you can be honest with about your working patterns, abilities, interests and expectations of what you will and won’t do. It means working the way you want to live; in line with who you really are not who someone tells you to be.
Gone is the feeling of the heavy brick on the chest; the dread of the phone going (another senior colleague passing to me his – it was almost always his – stresses and pressures); the vivid middle of the night work dreams; the edgy waking before the alarm; the walking the long way around the office to avoid some colleagues’ desks or offices; the constant calculation and recalculation of when you could leave the office or the meeting, dinner, social event or team building session to return to the real world where you could be you again without it being obvious, commented on or being counted against you at the next ratings meeting or promotion discussion. All gone. All gone. All good.
It’s only been a year and only 6% of my working life and yet it is the most profound experience of my career. Like everything in life, except the love for and of your child, it is not the perfect bed of roses and not without its challenges, but on its worse days it is 100% better than the working life I had before.
AMJ Comms was named after our daughter – they are her initials – to remind me and my clients what is the most important thing in life. Every time I send an email or open a document now I am greeted by those three letters and a smile comes across my face. Not the fake smiles I would have previously deployed in meeting with former senior colleagues when they made one of “their jokes” but the smile of a man who has at last found life-work balance and joy in his work. A smile that is all me, all the time.