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Back in March 2021, Jonathan MacDonald, Kaur Lass and myself had a conversation about Mental Wellness Habits, this series of articles is based on those conversations. You can read the first article in the series here.
Important: mental illness may require medical intervention. Check out nhs.uk/mental-health/ for important information.
In my work with CEOs, Portfolio Executives and Charity leaders, I regularly see things that are stress factors. Addressing these is a critical part of what we do with people. I have had people come to me sent by their business partner because their partner recognises that they are literally working themselves to death. They won’t go to a psychologist, a doctor or a mental health professional, but they will go and join a group of fellow CEOs. The CEOs want to be more effective as CEOs and grow their businesses. This gives me a wonderful ‘in’ to explore with them what is working in their lives or not.
A Success Trap
One person I worked with hadn’t had a holiday for 3 years. He was working with organisations in three different time zones and so was working both ends of the day. He only saw his children between 5pm – 7pm weekdays and was working most weekends. The wakeup call for him was when he was unable to stand up. His doctor made it clear that he needed to change his lifestyle. What we did was enable him to be a better CEO by better managing his whole life. He started taking smalls steps to rebuild his life. He set time to spend with his partner, spent quality time with his children on a shared focussed activity and established a regime of regular exercise. Previously he had established a mindset that success was having a big enough business … even if it killed him. And it very nearly did! He had to be intentional about setting his mind to establish his well-being as the overriding priority.
Entrepreneurs can easily be caught up in the culture of “hard work equals happiness”, often working 18-19 hours without proper renumeration. This culture has informed too many peoples perspective of what success looks like.
In his experience of working with CEOs, Kaur has observed that the successful, fulfilled ones have a very simple secret. You should book time for yourself, your family and holidays. In just the same way that you book time to meet with other people for business meetings. You are intentional about booking time for yourself and keeping to your personal boundaries. For Kaur, one of his rules is to never work at weekends. It means he has 2 full days to relax and be with his family. You need to work out what rules are best for you and hold yourself to them. Whatever you decide book time for yourself!
Keeping in tune with the passion
As a leader, you start with an ambition or passion. You want to express your passion through building an organisation. One of the most stressful things that I see happen is that all the effort making the organisation work means you lose sight of the passion.
A lady that I worked with for many years, had a passion for making films. She had worked to bring big companies to the UK, then she went back to the USA. When 9/11 happened, she had the opportunity for a long pause to review her life. She asked herself what she really wanted to do with her life. Film making was the answer. She came back to London, trained as a cinematographer and started her own video business. She had started to make films. Over the following years, she built up a business where she had 50 people working for her with studios in London and a successful business operation.
In 2008, with the financial crash, the business pretty much disappeared. This crisis gave her an opportunity to realise that she had lost sight of her desire to make films. She hadn’t been making them anymore. She was building a place where other people could make films. She was never behind a camera. Over the following years, she completely rebuilt what she was doing. Now she operates as a filmmaker first. She has made her first full length feature film and a whole set of other exciting pieces of film work. She has also got a business that keeps her income coming in between projects, which is all about filmmaking. She has turned things upside down. She is no longer building a business to make films. She is making films and it happens to be a business. Her passion underpins everything.
Habits replace passion
Kaur offers a slightly different perspective on loss of passion. What starts out as a passion for changing the world or sphere of influence, can quickly become a routine and a set of daily habits. So, are those habits healthy?
It’s very easy to be focussed on your work and actions and lose sight of why you are doing them. You don’t see how you are building and exercising your passion. If your work just becomes a constant flow of actions, then there is no excitement left and the routine becomes toil. Many leaders can fail at this stage of boring and demanding work. If you are entrepreneur, this work has no obvious financial reward. This impacts your mental well-being. You aren’t getting the results as fast as you want. Others are doubting what you do because you are doing something different and innovative. It’s very easy for you to get undermined by self-doubt. Self-doubt can destroy business success. For Kaur, the key is to always be aware of what he feels and what he thinks. He will then take a moment to pause and reflect to see if he should do things the way others are telling him.
You now have an opportunity to either, change things because there are better ways of doing it or, change the relationship with the habit you see as routine. You can reframe it as part of a wider challenge. This is a habit that you’re doing to bring the change you want. It is set in the context of bringing your passion to life. Making these little shifts on how you frame your activities can make a huge difference.
Keeping sight of the motivating passion allows you to focus on the things that bring you joy and life. You now see the mundane and routine tasks as part of the grand plan for bringing that passion and the dream it represents to pass.
Is your business running you and preventing you from realising the dreams that are driven by your passions? Reconfigure your business to serve you. Have habits and routines lost their meaning and purpose? Re-evaluate the relevance to the bigger picture.
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.