The Marathon of Work and Life

June 4, 2017

When I started my professional life, now over two decades ago, I remember an Andersen Partner lecturing us in St Charles, Illinois, that our work life was to be marathon, not a sprint, and that we should pace ourselves for the long run. I have learnt to appreciate this more and more as I get older. This weekend I learnt about watering breaks, in this marathon called life.

I had the chance to spend Friday evening and all of Saturday with my children. Usually I only carve out an hour here and there for them on weekends, to do something quick together, and then I get back to doing work. And even when we are together doing something, I don’t fully disconnect and I am still glued to my phone and my computer. Partially this is work demand, usually getting something urgent ready for the week ahead, and just remaining responsive to the team’s needs. It is also playing catch up and reading articles published through the week. And sometimes it is doing all sort of admin, tax, banking, time-sucking bits and bobs.

Well, this weekend was different. Two things happened. First, I spent the time almost fully off the computer. Almost, meaning I took an hour to finish all the car, hotel, etc. arrangements for my business travel for the week ahead. Putting that aside, I did not otherwise touch my phone or my computer. Taking time out is by itself good for the brain. Second, I used the time to do things for and with them.

We played rounders, where the girls totally and fairly scored me tens of times. We also lost a ball in the bushes, and surprisingly none of us managed to find it despite looking everywhere. Apparently, mummy is the only one who manages to find lost rounders balls under the bushes. We also got quite hot from being outside on what was a gorgeous sunny Saturday, so we went back indoors and made some really yummy ice creams cups with all sort of toppings.

We then moved onto making roman shields with cardboard. The children had prepared a base red layer using acrylic enamel paint, which looked gorgeous and glossy, but unfortunately repels any water-based paint on top. Celeste tried to paint on top anyway the Imperial Eagle wings and Jupiter’s lightning on yellow acrylic, and, to my surprise, it worked and it eventually dried out. Hugo took a different strategy altogether and resorted to gluing paper on top of the enamel coated cardboard. I helped him on the computer (what!??) with Omnigraffle to make the shapes we would then print out, cut, glue and paint. The result? Two beautifully looking shields, and two very happy children having spent time doing this together with me.

To wrap the evening, Hugo and I did some DIY to move the projection screen, the projector and the speakers for our media setup from one room to another. He really enjoyed being daddy’s helper.

In between all these things, we all also made time to play table tennis, rowing on the erg, and play Forza Horizon 3, one at the time (and to discover that daddy only presses the accelerator, never the brakes). They all beat me. I wish I had also spend some time with Anaïs solving Junior Kangaroo math riddles, which we quite enjoy it doing together. Hopefully next weekend.

But most important than what we did, and the reason I felt compelled to write this post, is the impact doing things together had on all of us. The children felt happier, and probably more importantly, they developed confidence. I have come to realise that self-confidence is one of the hardest skills to develop as a child and must not be taken for granted. Our time this weekend hopefully helped. During the hours we were together, they were sweet, affectionate and positive throughout. This time is called quality bonding. It also helped me. I felt exhausted but rewarded, happy, at peace and relaxed. For the first time in months, I slept well and through the night. The stress and the worries of work were there, but through their smiles, their laughs, their cries, their ingenuity and their creativity, I managed to put work aside for 36 hours. All of this might be an obvious and trivial discovery, but it is my discovery nonetheless.

It is now Sunday, and I am happy to report back to work and duty, on my way to San Francisco aboard Norwegian’s Boing 787 from London Gatwick to Oakland. And as I return home next Saturday, I shall again disconnect from work for a day, and reconnect with my family, with my children, and with my dearest wife on her (belated) birthday celebration.

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