Working in a big professional services firm, I was waking up the train driver at 5:15am to get into the office by 7am and lucky to be home by 8pm.  I was often at an airport on Sunday afternoon so I could be in a foreign city the night before a time zone shifted start at 8am.  Even on holiday, I needed to reply to e-mails and deal with voicemails for an hour a day.   The financial rewards for this demanding workstyle, were not a substitute for the freedom to live a family life without being so tired that I was regularly ill at Christmas.

On a particular occasion, one of my friends was running a training workshop for a bunch of rocket scientists.  It was about how they could work more efficiently.  During one of the exercises the sound of laughter emanated from one of the team.  After a bit, a team member said “Shush, this is work. It should be serious”. 

Should it?  What if we could still achieve all we need to achieve and have freedom and joy too?  Why not?

Is this as good as it gets?

Think about it. You’ve worked hard at school. You’ve developed a career and built up a range of technical and soft skills. You’ve delivered some amazing results. But you’re probably feeling dissatisfied.  Perhaps you are now feeling trapped at work. The freedom and joy that you were looking for feels elusive.

It might be that you are pursuing one thing and hoping to get another.  It’s like fishing and hoping to catch a rabbit.

So, the crucial question is …

What does Freedom & Joy mean for you?

When I talk to people about Freedom & Joy, they can just sound like abstract concepts.  But as we talk about specific examples then it becomes very real.  For me, Freedom is all about autonomy – getting to choose the ‘When’, ‘What’ and ‘How’ in my life because I am passionate about the ‘Why’.  For me, Joy is about the energy I get from teaching a receptive group and the excitement of seeing new ideas and opportunities come alive and become real for them.  Joy often comes from powerful physical sensations and emotional experiences but also in the quiet resting in front of expanses of water and sky.

For those who struggle to find positive examples, I encourage them to look at the negatives – what denies you Freedom & Joy?  Where do you feel enslaved by ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘ought’ of your workplace, culture or family expectations.  When do you feel ‘anti-Joy’: the oppression, depression, boredom, resentment, anger or hatred as a result of people, places or things in your life? 

Can you find physical, mental or spiritual symptoms of your suffering:  exhaustion, back pain, persistent problems with your gut, unhealthy reliance on alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling or abusive relationships, experiencing depression, bipolar, hopelessness, insomnia, anxiety, hypochondria.

Can you make things better?

Consider: how much does your workstyle contribute positively to bringing you Freedom & Joy?  And how much does your workstyle actively deny you the opportunities for Freedom & Joy?

Are there small things you could change like increasing home working?  Or bigger things like working in a different part of the organisation for a different boss in a different team? 

Perhaps the time has come to re-evaluate your whole relationship with work with an eye to the future.  Will your current employer or your current career path bring you more Freedom & Joy over the next 3-5 years?  Or is it already as good as it every will be?  Can you see it getting much worse?

First steps to making things better

I recommend that you start small with changes that are easier to make.  This will then give you the confidence to take more radical steps.  For me, a first step when I was at a big consulting business was to make it clear to my team that I wasn’t available for anything that started at 5pm and to consistently leave the office between 5pm-5:30pm.  I had one difficult conversation with a senior partner, but I stood my ground.  The second small step was to clear my diary of meetings the day before I went on holiday and the first day back.  This meant I didn’t carry any work into my holiday, and I wasn’t playing catch up on my return.

Bigger Steps

A much bigger step was to decide that being a partner in a global professional service firm no longer matched my workstyle aspirations and, in summer 2002, I started the path to a portfolio workstyle that gave me the Freedom to limit my fee earning days to an average of three days per week and enabled me to be available for a variety of other opportunities that would give me Joy for two days per week.  I found that I also became choosier about what I did for my fee earning days so that I had the possibility to experience Joy five days per week.  There have been times when I have made choices that have prioritised Freedom & Joy over secure financial reward (including a 6 figure salary offer) and sometimes I have made bad decisions that threatened to trap me in slavery and toil.  However, overall, I have no regrets.

Conclusions

Once you realise how much your current workstyle is limiting your Freedom & Joy, making small steps to make things better will give you the confidence and courage to make bigger decisions that help you build the workstyle that builds a future that releases you from slavery and toil.

Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.