Leadership · Project Management

My Lesson from 2013: To keep things in perspective.

In business, it is far too easy to lose sight of the big picture in terms of the varying degrees of importance and urgency.  And, to top it off, it seems we are reluctant to take our much-deserved vacation time for many reasons (perception being a prime reason).  For some reason we are compelled to never take vacation – and when we do we work through it.

I often wonder how many precious memories are sacrificed or bypassed as a result of this.

Last night I saw a commercial encouraging smokers to make a list of all that is important to them and then cross off the things that they are willing to give up for their desire to smoke.  (Please watch the commercial – it is SO impactful.)  Some folks have an addiction to working that I believe is similar to that of smoking (or other addictions) and they go so far as to sacrifice valuable time with family and friends to make a buck.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying…money DOES make the world go round.  But it also makes for a very lonely companion if it’s all you’ve got after you’ve sacrificed everything else for your source of income.  So, great, when you are old and dying you will have money.  Great.  My grandfather always said “you can’t take it with you when you go.”  So what did you gain by making work and income your #1 priority?  Sure, you should not take risks to lose your job and its security but keep things in perspective and be mindful of what you are sacrificing.

Take a vacation when you take vacation time.

Recently I was so excited to hear about a colleagues’ anniversary trip to Jamaica, so when she came back to work I ran over to ask her about it.  We had compared notes on what to see and do there…and I was excited to hear about their adventures.  I sunk when she told me that she worked while she was there.  She took vacation time…she spent her earned vacation time working remotely from a beautiful tropical paradise.  Should it be acceptable because she was in a beautiful place?  You might say “Well, at least she was in paradise!”  No…I believe not.  And it’s not as if she worked for one day of that week away…it was every day.  This is a professional who is dedicated to her work and strives for outcomes, however I am concerned that she is giving too much of herself.

The lesson for us here is that while work can be demanding, we must remember that it should not be priority #1.

Keep things in perspective.

Work isn’t worth your health, and it certainly isn’t worth killing yourself over…literally and figuratively.  In 2013 I lost a former program manager and before that I lost a fellow ISD…and I am convinced these two gentlemen worked themselves to death.  In fact, we used to tell our program manager (who was retired with the Navy and eligible for retirement, period) that he needed to just retire and enjoy life.  He joked that if he stopped working he would die, and that is EXACTLY what happened.  He retired in December 2012 and died exactly six months later the day before his 60th birthday.  It broke my heart.

Similarly, my fellow ISD had epilepsy and died in his sleep from a major seizure.  He was under a great deal of stress and pressure at work and I truly believe that was a contributing factor to his death.  He was much too young to suffer such consequences.

As a fire wife, my husband and the fire service keep me grounded…it remind me often that what I do is not life and death.  What many of us (dare I say all of us?) do in corporate America is not life and death.  My husband comes home with stories about the struggles and life and death scenarios that his patients encounter, and it is unbelievably eye-opening.  Urgency – and emergency – are relative.

I run a tight ship as a project manager, but I also realize that no one is going to die if a deadline slips.  Sure, there will be prices to pay (literal and figurative ones) but, really, 2013 has reminded me to keep things in perspective.

If you are a leader, lead by example.  Stop sending emails at all hours because it sends a message that you expect others to be workaholics as well.  Stop corresponding during YOUR vacation time as well…and enjoy your a nice break.  Whatever it is, it can wait.  I assure you.  Consider the message in the commercial I mentioned above.

So remember, this holiday season and beyond, to keep things in perspective.  Consider how much you are sacrificing by being a workaholic.  Find a balance and make priceless, yet valuable, memories for yourself and others to cherish.


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