Life after Bobby: In search of meaning

Fifty one weeks, four hours and about 15 minutes ago my Dad died. Bobby J let out his last breath, peacefully, at home very much knowing he was loved. I’ve written about his death before. My Dad’s life and death, have provided the lens through which I viewed my own life of late, and challenged by him last summer ‘when are you going to do something about it’, I quit my job and stepped into the unknown.

I’d like to claim that I’ve been on a journey since then, an active search for meaning but the reality is far less purposeful or structured than that. I’ve been meandering through life, taking time to appreciate the little things, travelling and thinking (lots) and generally feeling my way towards some sort of meaning in the last twelve months. What follows are a few thoughts and reflections that may be of interest:

1. Do what works for you

First up, some people love lists, some people hate them! I don’t consider myself to be a particularly structured person and am not renowned for list making, but I do love a list when it comes to blog posts. It appears lots of people don’t. I’m past apologising, formulaic it may be but it works for me, so the lists are staying! Hopefully the next nine thoughts will be slightly more profound!!

2. People are naturally curious, share and ask

I’ve noticed over the last twelve months that people often want to know more, but lots of people are afraid to ask! If I listened to what people told me I’m not sure I’d have blogged about Dad’s death, that was a taboo too far, and yet my web stats show that people are interested, even if they aren’t prepared to say so in public. I’m a massive blogging fan so I’m biased, but if you’re not sure what you can do to connect with others I really would recommend it. I think lots of people are interested and curious and the more you share the easier it is for those connections to be made.

3. How you spend your time is your choice

I’ve been on the road a lot lately, I promised myself I’d spend November at home. It felt important to ground myself in one place for a bit. Then I get seduced by Meaning Conference and found myself in Brighton. I’ll work at the weekend to pick up other things, some opportunities are too good to miss, and it’s incredibly liberating to remember that you really do choose how you spend your time, even if an employer or customer is paying for some of it.

4. Unless you’re a brain surgeon, no-one is likely to die if you stop working after four/eight/ten/twelve hours

Until we get to a point where flexible working really is a reality there’s a good chance that many people will work over their allocated hours. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, regardless whether you’re paid for those hours. I’ve always struggled with work-life balance, since I started working for myself it doesn’t bother me nearly so much. I used to worry I was setting a bad example to my colleagues and staff, now I am embrace it. I’m a night owl, I work into the early hours of the morning irrespective of what is driving it, but I also stop work when I want and nearly always start work later. I have rarely had a meeting before 10am, my 5am starts for trains have been cut to about 1/4 of what they were, I probably work as much as I ever did but half of it I don’t view as work!

5. Good colleagues and good leadership is worth at least half your salary (or more)

Kind of what it says on the tin. Work for yourself and you soon realise a couple of things, one of which is it can be lonely without colleagues, the things I miss the most are my colleagues and some of our customers. The thing I’m grateful for the most is being able to lead myself and not be badly managed. I have taken home much less money this year than last, I’m under much less stress (personally and professionally) and far more aware of what really matters to me…people and experience. I don’t need to earn a lot to survive, having good people to work with, and inspiring people to work alongside is way more important to me than money.

6. People care

Not everyone has the words or means to show or say it in an easily found way, but nearly everyone I’ve met this last year has cared. They might not care about the same things as me, but they do care. If we’re thinking about meaning it’s worth spending some time trying to identify what people care about, especially the ones that get under your skin, if you need to have them in your life then it might be easier to work together or understand them if you figure out what they care about. I’ve also been overwhelmed by how many people care about me, or the same things I care about, there are lots of people out there, it’s just about finding them.

7. Admit when you don’t know and never stop asking questions

That’s it. Hard one to fight the blag urge and to admit you don’t know or don’t have a view about something. Really, really important to say when you don’t know and proudly ask questions. Think life would be much better if more people asked questions instead of just jumping to a view and defending it to the hilt.

8. Connectivity matters – but on your own terms, in your own time

I’ve blogged before about extroverts and introverts and declared myself an off the scale extrovert. I love social, I love people, I love people watching, I love connecting. People are easy for me, but this year has taught me, or reminded me, that I really love time alone too. I need to recharge my batteries, I need time to think, that means I have to say no occasionally, that’s hard but necessary. I have no doubt that connectivity and collaboration are the future, but to do that and perform well in it there are two things I definitely need: sleep and downtime.

9 Fight your inner self doubt and keep yourself open to new ideas

This is related to many of the above points. As human’s I think being vulnerable comes easy, but is uncomfortable for us. We’re all born vulnerable and yet by the time we get to teenagers most of us can’t wait to ‘be independent’. I think this is interlinked with a need to be seen to have all the answers and not admit to having doubt in ourselves or our abilities (or only to admit it to a few chosen friends and close colleagues). Of course the reality is that we’re all living and making it up as we go along, working for yourself makes it much easier to embrace that inner doubt and admit you don’t know. It’s also liberating when no one person is paying your salary, far easier to remain open to new ideas when you don’t have to worry about how they link to targets or business plans or one organisational view.

10. Grief isn’t linear, life isn’t linear

My Dad had cancer for five years before he died, his death wasn’t sudden or unexpected and we thought we were prepared. I don’t know that you can ever really prepare for a death, not completely, however much it’s expected. Almost a year since Dad died I’m fairly certain about one thing, grief isn’t linear. I’ve blogged before about missing Dad and most days I’m ok with it, some days I physically feel a loss but the thing I’m most surprised about is how random it is. Grief hits you like waves, fine one minute, stopped in your tracks by a smell, sound, person the next. It’s powerful. I’m beginning to think life is the same, if you let it, but that’s a post for another time.

If you got to the end of this post thank you; as ever your thoughts, contributions and musings on meaning are very welcome. I’ll try and blog again after Meaning Conference with some more focused thoughts.


0 comments on “Life after Bobby: In search of meaning”

Thanks for this George. It has summed up a lot of what I have been thinking lately. I’ve just been a through a three year cycle of redundancy, self-employment, caring for a parent, grief and now a new job. It seems a linear progression, but as you say, life is more random than that. I was so ashamed of being made redundant that I told very few people. I was not one for embracing vulnerability!

Although tough at times, I have probably learned more in the last three years than I have in the past 30-odd years. And the difference has been that I was ready for it. I think we need to be open and embrace vulnerability and doubt. When we get too comfortable, too familiar with our surroundings we don’t have much incentive to seek out meaning. And seeking out meaning keeps us living and growing. I think many people find themselves on a treadmill of work and family responsibilities – it seems that we don’t give ourselves the time to seek out meaning.

Unlike you, I am fairly introverted, but luckily social media has helped me on that score. It is no co-incidence that I only started twitter after I had been made redundant. You are right that people care. People are good and decent too – mostly. I am thankful that I have had the last three years to remind myself of that.

Best wishes,

Bless you, George. Keep going, in whatever direction feels good.

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