The past few years have been weird.
Don’t get me wrong – I know that the world is generally a weird place and that if you asked anyone at any given point in time over the past couple of hundred years they would have felt that “the past few years have been weird”. But over the course of my life, the past few have definitely been the weirdest. So far at least.
I’m not going to go into detail describing all those odd things that have been going on – you know them all anyway – you’ve been living on the planet and experiencing them all yourself. But I am interested in taking a moment to reflect on what all this weirdness has meant regarding how I think about the world and my place in it, and in particular about Work.
The reality for most of us is that we spend a large part of our active days at work. We’re asleep for about a third of a day, and most of us are at (or on our way to or from) work for at least half of the rest of that time. So, we probably spend more time “at work” than we do almost anything else, other than sleeping.
I really like sleeping. It’s one of my favourite things to do. Definitely in the top three. Eating is right up there too. I also like going to new places and seeing beautiful things and I like reading books and discovering new ideas. I also like seeing animals – especially the ones that you don’t get to see all the time like otters and donkeys. And I love gardens. Gardens are great. You give me a garden with a racoon and a snack in a place where I’ve not been before and I’m basically the Mr McMahon Reaction meme.
I feel that the extended break-from-regular-programming that we’ve all been living through over the past few years has given many of us an opportunity to do some extended navel gazing and thinking about “big stuff”. We’re more aware of the fragility of our mental health. We appreciate the freedoms that we have. We feel a sense of urgency to make up for the time that we lost in lockdowns and endless zoom meetings. There’s a desire to find more meaning and purpose in life. Some people even learned how to make sourdough from scratch.
At various points in anyone’s life, there are moments when we find ourselves wanting to find ways to live better and make the most of what short time we have. But the shared experience of weirdness that humanity has had over the past few years seems to have been a catalyst for many people to feel this way all at once. Around the globe this has manifest itself in different ways: The Great Resignation was certainly an obvious outcome – even if it didn’t seem to have as much of an impact in Australia as it was expected to. The increasing price of real estate in areas outside of the metropolitan centres (coastal towns in particular) was another, as people realised that if you were going to work remotely why not have a view too?
When it came to work, people simply weren’t prepared to accept that they were going to meekly go back to the way they always did things before the Great Weirdness. WFH is now normal. Flexible working conditions are crucial if you want to find and retain good staff. These are Good Things and I’m glad that they’ve happened. But why stop there? Why not take it one step further? I don’t want to work to simply enable the good bits of my life. I want it to be as good as the other bits.
Even before the past few years, I was in the fortunate position of liking what I do for work. I get to do something that I find both fun and satisfying. But all that navel gazing did make me realise that while I don’t really like the shape of my navel, there are ways of enjoying my work even more.
When you have to work with people rather than with red pandas (in other words, if you’re not a zoo-keeper), you should work with those people whose values align with your own. If you’re going to be spending a third of your days around people who aren’t your family, make sure they’re people that you like and admire and respect and resonate with. If they share your sense of humour and appreciation of goats, even better.
This time of year, we do a lot of strategic planning with our clients. But nowadays we don’t simply think about businesses success in terms of profit and loss. In the past I felt that the idea of a triple bottom line was all well and good for big business but not necessarily practical for SMEs. These days, I think I understand that value and profit aren’t the same thing. And that what is valuable is different for everyone.
Figure out how work can make you a better person. Schedule time to think about who you want to be and what you need to do to be that person. If that means doing something different from what you do today, that’s OK. If there are aspects of your work that you feel are holding you back from being the person you want to be, find ways to overcome those obstacles. Actively planning not just your professional development but your personal development will pay dividends not just in work but in life.
Yes, the past few years have been weird. Let’s make the most of what the weirdness has taught us.