I organised an event recently for the CIPR in Wales that focused on the reality of resilience. My friend and CIPR colleague, Trudy Lewis came to speak for me, and she posed a number of questions when we were preparing for the event around what we mean by resilience.
All too often people think that resilience, and especially the lack of resilience, is down to an individual. For sure individuals have a role to play in resilience, and we all have to develop behaviours that support resilience, but I do have to wonder if resilience isn’t more of a collective responsibility. We have to create boundaries, or even compartmentalise our lives – be that work, home, volunteering, and everything else that goes with your life – and it’s maintaining the boundaries between those spaces that enables people to be successful and maintain a sense of balance.
People talk about ‘work-life balance’ but it’s always seemed somewhat nonsensical to me to isolate only work from the rest of your life in that way. That is especially true for anyone for whom, like me, the various elements of work are so important in my life. I therefore tend to just talk about Life Balance.
I am fortunate and blessed to have an amazing family. We are by no means perfect and we have significant turmoil from time to time, but nonetheless my family is my strength and drive. I am driven to be better, for them. I’m driven to work hard so that we can enjoy the kind of activities and lifestyle that we want. I’m driven to make sure I’m around for a long time yet to enjoy and, in the case of my kids, annoy them.
It’s hard to maintain those boundaries if you keep them to yourself. You need those with whom you live, work and play to understand the boundaries you have set, and even contribute to them and help you strengthen them if they can see that those boundaries are not strong enough or working for you.
In recent months I’ve taken on a significant piece of work, which means I am in-house with an organisation for about half of my week. It’s the first time I’ve worked for an organisation in this way in 13 years. On top of that I have my other clients, project work, and my non-exec and volunteering roles.
And then there’s all the other stuff going on to make up Life.
One of the most important decisions I made was two years ago during Covid Lockdown Two, when I decided that I was getting this balance wrong; the boundaries were just not in place and I was floundering.
That’s why I decided to work with business coach and mentor, Jenni Field. She helped me identify barriers to success - the poor or negative behaviours that were detrimental to my personal and professional well-being, and she gave me focus and held me to account. That support removed some of the chaos and turmoil in my head and allowed me to really focus on what was important.
As I embarked on this challenging period of work, I decided to go back to my coach and build on the behaviours and techniques we have developed previously to make sure I didn’t get into a difficult space and used these opportunities properly.
Jenni hates the word busy. When people are “…too busy…” to do something, or deliberately project busyness as a a kind of status symbol, they mean they are prioritising something or someone over what you need them to do. Being busy actually lands quite badly with managers, peers and colleagues. This article on owning your time (link: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20170222-this-is-what-you-really-mean-when-you-say-im-busy) posted on BBC.com is interesting in that point.
We all find ourselves with very full inboxes and long to do lists but you need to take ownership of that, and be honest about capacity and delivery.
My time management skills are very limited. I’d go as far to say that I have the time management abilities of a carrot, so it is essential that I work hard to manage my time and the expectations of others effectively. And I am open with people about that limitation.
A firefighter from South Wales Fire and Rescue called Dave Crews also spoke at the resilience event. One of the things he said was a quote he’d heard that “When someone else is having their worst day, you have to make sure you’re having your best day.” In short, if your job is to help someone in a time of difficulty or crisis, you have to make sure that you work through your own challenges and bring your best day.
So, today I took the decision that I have to get better at bringing my best day, and to do that I have to look after myself better. I have to do the things that bring me joy, energise me, and excite me. Yes, work is something that brings me joy but I need better balance.
Some of you may know that a couple of years ago I had a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. I needed to move more and lose weight, so I started running for the first time since my teens and I found I really enjoyed it. It helped me lose a shed load of weight, which in turn gave me more energy and made me feel healthier and much better mentally. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with being slightly bigger and with the sofa being my friend but, at 53 years old, that persona and physicality is not going to do me much good.
So today I restarted the Couch to 5K running programme, in the hope that I could get back to the place where I was healthier and happier, and able to run 15K if I really wanted to. In truth I don’t often want to, but it’s nice to know that I can. I am pleased to report that week one run one went well, and unlike the first time I did the Couch to 5K I don’t feel like I belong in a glue factory. Importantly, I have set aside time to focus on the running.
I’ve also got better at setting boundaries with my clients so they know when I’m available and when they can call on me, and importantly when they can’t. It was a surprise to me that this was was received in such a positive way. “Thanks for letting us know,” they said. “We can now make sure we use the time you are with us more effectively.”
That boundary also allows me to focus and make sure that I am truly present when I am with them. If I’m not allowing the time to creep into my own, I need to make sure I give them great value when I am there. I’ve built in both resilience and excellence at the same time.
The next step is to create some boundaries to protect my downtime and family time. I’ve been pretty crap at that for 31 years, but I’ll let you know how I get on.