by Shawna Suckow, CMP
• Learning to say 'no'
• Creating work/life balance
• Make life, outside of work, a priority
I have a secret to share with you: I don’t work on Friday afternoons (shhh…don’t tell!). If word ever got out, people might think I’m a slacker, or worse…that I have work/life balance!
There’s a strange badge of honor in our industry that comes from working ridiculous hours. Ask any planner how they are, and I’ll bet they respond, “Busy!” with a smile on their face, and an exasperated sigh.
I know how fulfilling it is to cross tasks off my list, and often you’ll find me on the couch, late at night, when it’s quiet and I can think. I get a lot done during those hours when the phone’s not ringing and I don’t feel compelled to check my email. I’m not saying the occasional late evening is a bad thing; on the contrary, it can be a peaceful time to accomplish quite a bit.
Several of my friends have teased me over the years, calling me a ‘Shiny Object Chaser.’ I wasn’t happy unless I had 10 spinning plates in the air at all times, hair on fire, and phone ringing off the hook. The best compliment anyone could give me was to say, “I don’t know how you do it all!” I loved that – it made me feel like Super Woman. I perpetuated it by constantly chasing more shiny objects, i.e. more new projects, tasks, ideas, you name it.
What changed for me?
About five years ago, my friend Wendi developed severe epilepsy. It came on in her early 40s, and got really bad to the point that she had to quit work and could not drive anymore. This vibrant, uber-creative woman was now isolated in her house, with nothing to do and nowhere to go. If she left the house alone, even for a walk, she risked having a seizure that could leave her incapacitated. I committed to spending Friday afternoons with her, where we would simply run errands or go to lunch. What started out as a gift for her turned into a gift for me as well. To this day, my Friday afternoons remain sacred. I would not miss a Friday date with her unless the sky is falling, or I’m out of town.
Wendi and I were a lot alike before her diagnosis. We were both extremely driven business women who loved to get together to brainstorm our next big ideas. What happened to her put things into a new perspective for me. I became greedy with my time. I put my friendship with her above all else on those Friday afternoons. Most importantly, I learned to say no.
Saying no is especially difficult when you have clients, whether they are internal (within your company), or external. Setting boundaries is difficult, but as Dr. Phil famously said many years ago, “You teach people how to treat you.” Saying yes to every request at every hour, regardless of the impact on your personal life, isn’t healthy.
Our industry has put an unreasonable and unsustainable focus on impossibly long hours. Our culture has reinforced the importance of busy-ness for decades. Thankfully we’re starting to see change percolate.
A fellow planner friend found out the hard way that working herself to death for her clients wasn’t serving her own best interests. She was on site running an event when she took a bad fall that hospitalized her. Who came to see her in the hospital? Not her clients. Her family stayed by her side throughout the ordeal. This put her priorities into clearer perspective for her. She was (almost literally) breaking her back to deliver a fabulous event for her client, who in the end never once checked on her wellbeing.
I’m not suggesting that our clients care nothing for us; rather, that in the end, who will be there for you when you retire? If your health declines? If you lose your job? Perhaps it’s time to rethink how you spend all those extra hours when you technically shouldn’t be working.
Until it hits close to home, I think we all believe we’re invincible, and time will never run out to do the things we want to do in life.
When I retire and look back on how I spent my time, of course I’ll be proud of my professional accomplishments, but where will I look back and be most joyful? On those Friday afternoons that I didn’t work, and spent time with a dear friend instead. On all those vacations I took with my family. On those times I took a day off just to hang out with my kids. I won’t look fondly back on all those times I worked 60-70 hours in a week.
Is it time for you to start saying ‘no?’ To hire a virtual assistant to lighten your load? To dust off those vacation days and actually use them?
Let’s put an end to the addiction of busy-ness.
Shawna Suckow, CMP, founded SPIN, the Senior Planners Industry Network, in 2008. Today, she is a global speaker on industry trends, and a sought-after sales trainer for industry suppliers. www.shawnasuckow.com.
Read more from Shawna.
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