not cogs in our self made machine

To Business Owners : Are we cogs in our self-made machines?

Tycoon vs Self-employed carer

If you went to the Great British Business show, you probably heard many multi-millionaires, CEO of top companies saying that you have got to believe in yourself and you gotta just get on with your work, you can do anything you set your mind to, the harder you work, the luckier you get! Then there was one fashion retail tycoon who proudly announced he worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week almost all his life and now even now in his 60’s and loved every minute of it. I quickly checked his detail on Wikipedia, he has two daughters and his net worth is 150 million pounds! At one of the best retail management training courses in the world, I was speaking to owners of big department stores, regional managers of national chains, and almost all of them told me they worked for an average of 12 hours a day or more! New insight from Lloyds Bank shows that small business owners are working up to 20 hours more a week than an average UK employee.

Yet If you talk to my friends John and Lisa, you will hear a completely different story! They will tell you that the capitalist society is designed to keep the husband and wife working full time, in order to pay off their bills, to have a mortgage, two cars, annual holidays……My friends John and Lisa live a really simple and humble lifestyle, living in a caravan on a tight budget, working only part time, but they are telling me they couldn’t be happier with their lives. Lisa works as a carer on a self-employed basis in a care home, she loves her work, she says she only works 6 hours each time she goes there (she gets tired after 6 hours), and she only goes there when she wants to, but each time when she goes, she makes sure she is giving 100% of all her energy and attention to look after the elderly people in the care home. They love her and  call her ” the kind lady”. To her, this is not only a means of earning some pocket money, but also a calling, to care for the elderly and be there for them.  She says it is not fair to the elderly when she goes to work feeling tired, unhappy or half-minded, because the quality of her work won’t be as good …….I must give you a bit of background info, Lisa used to be a university lecturer back in Korea, and her English husband John worked very hard running his own business until one day he found out he had cancer, that was when they started to take a step back and have a long and hard look at their lifestyle. They decided to put a stop to their workaholic lifestyle, and chose to live a simple and humble life that they could enjoy with each other.

If you have a choice, who would you rather be? The tycoon who works 12 hours 7 days a week almost all of his work life, or Lisa who works as self-employed carer and lives in a caravan with her husband?

My journey

As a business woman who started a small independent furniture retail business at the beginning of the recession in 2008, I must admit the work was really hard, especially during the first year. In the first year of running my business, I had to leave my daughter in the nursery 5 days a week, and in the hands of a childminder on Saturday; I only had Sunday to spend with her, and by then I was just so tired. One of the hardest days I can recall was one business trip, when I went to Paris to attend Maison De Objet, which is one of Europe’s biggest trade shows. I was dragging my suitcase in the snow with a fever and a severe rash all over my body, marching the aisles from 9:00 am to 7 pm every day for 4 days. If you have ever attended a trade show, you will know that the mileage is just unbelievable; with a fever and a really bad rash, I could barely eat anything. I didn’t know how I managed to make it; at one point I thought I was going to die………..

marched many miles
Marched many miles, my poor aching feet!

There is no deny that work is a very important of our life, to a lot of people, it is how they prove their value and their self-worth, at least I used to think so……………I thought to myself that was the way I could prove my worth to this world. The reason why I was so eager to prove myself, is because I thought I was the laughing stock of my university classmates and the black sheep of my family; my classmates are now professors, McKinsey consultants, Director of a listed pharmaceutical company…… brother, cousins and uncles are well established in their very successful professional careers…….and hooray, I started a small independent furniture shop in Bournemouth at the beginning of a recession!

However, a kayaking trip on a beautiful river with my husband and daughter completely changed me. All of us were so happy on the river; we were singing ” Row row row your boat gently down the stream”, playing the harmonica and laughing out loud in the sun. I suddenly realized my happiness was not dependent on my work, what I have achieved, how I compared to my old classmates or my relatives. I was so happy and so at peace on the river, I was no less happy than how I felt when my business was nominated for national awards, no less happy than when I found out my business had double digit growth……..

kayaking with family
Kayaking with my daughter on River Sorgue

A book called ” Classic Christianity” also opened my eyes! This book was talking about how each one of us, as a beautiful and unique being, was loved and accepted unconditionally by God, nothing could separate us from God’s love. Because of that, we don’t need to seek the world’s approval from work, from how successful we are, from our looks, from our body figure, from our bank balance, from our cars……………….To the world, one could be a successful entrepreneur, having all the flashy cars, massive houses, luxurious holidays, but have you heard many stories of successful entrepreneurs dying in their 40’s or 50’s due to stress or overwork? In the blink of an eye all things can change, your health could deteriorate, political and economic climate could change, trends could change……. However, our identity in God’s eyes is unchanged, we are children of God, each and every one of us is a beautiful and unique creation, and God’s love and acceptance towards us will never change. That is our true identity, we are children of God! That is the true anchor for our soul, something that will never change, something we can hold on to for eternity.

I must confess this is utterly liberating for me.I am set free from working myself to the verge of breakdown to prove my value to this world. I have said goodbye to this inner critic who is constantly telling that I am not good enough. I am accepting myself just the way I am, and I know my self-worth doesn’t have to depend on my looks, my body figure, how successful I am, how many awards my business has won or has not won, how my relatives or old classmates look at me……….I have started to look at my work, not only as a way to achieve my vision to build a furniture shop that doesn‘t look like an ordinary furniture shop (a furniture shop looks like a beautiful jungle) , but also a calling to build up the people around me, to grow my team and make a difference in their lives.


Greenest furniture shop
A furniture shop that doesn’t look like an ordinary furniture shop, it looks like a jungle, an oasis, it is a sanctuary….

One quote from Patrick Lencioni has really inspired me. This is from his book, Three Signs of a Miserable Job. I think you probably know this deep down inside. Work is a large part of every person’s life. You have an opportunity to make a substantial difference in your employee’s life, and in the lives of others you manage. There’s probably no other person in the world right now, other than their spouses, who’s going to do as much to determine these people’s sense of accomplishment and peace of mind.

I am not saying that I have been a good boss, over the years I made some terrible mistakes and let my staff down from time to time. Through a lot of self-reflection, I have been learning to become a better boss. It is an honor to bring out the best in each individual, to change the lives of the people around us. I was a very un-confident person for a long time and it took me years to climb out of the depth. I have worked with lots of young people; a lot of them arrived at workplace completely un-confident and anxious about their future, just like I was. It brings me a lot of joy to see them grow, to see the change in them, to see their eyes light up.

Team Scape on Small Business Saturday
Our small team on Small Business Saturday

There is also a really great article that I would recommend every overworked high achiever to read, called ”How will you measure your life”, written by Harvard business school professor Clayton Christensen. One of my favorite quotes from him was ”Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team.”  You can read the entire article at Harvard business review , it is the best self-management article I have read in a long time, it is just absolutely inspirational! Please do read the full version of it!

A theater show called ” The soul in the machine’’ also really touched my heart. Created by Saltmine trust and commissioned by YMCA, it is a great show about the life of the founder of YMCA, Sir George Williams. You can watch a brief video about this show from clicking hereMore than one hundred years ago at the beginning of the industrial revolution, young men in London used to work 11 or 12 hours a day! During the hours of business, they kept a brave front and a stiff upper lip to the world, for the city has no use for cowards and weaklings, yet when they finished work and relaxed the tension, you may read on many faces the story of weariness and struggle and pain and sometimes of despair, the cruel aftermath of the day’s battle; after work, the only places where they could entertain themselves are taverns where they drank all night, or brothels. Sir George Williams was one of the first to realise that there is a distinct class, a great race of workers, untouched by any agency of philanthropy; they make no loud appeal for help, suffer silently and in loneliness, for such is the way of ”respectability”. Sir George Willisams believes we are more than bodies being fed to a machine, we are made for more than work, we have souls, we have spirits and somewhere in this dead city there must be a place for those things! That is the reason why he founded YMCA, a place where soul, body and mind could be nourished.

The wonderful show of ”the soul in the machine”

Amazing that his view stills rings true one hundred years later after he passed away, considering how many entrepreneurs, business owners, managers still work every day for the same amount of 12 hours or more!

There we go, to all the entrepreneurs/ business owners/managers

We have all been told that technology is changing the world, the world has never been going this fast, but it will never be this slow; the world is going to go faster and faster. Let’s all remember that we are not cogs in our self-made machine that is going faster and faster, we are precious beings, and our body, mind and spirits have all got needs. We have families and friends, they deserve our time and attention,too. I know most of us work long and hard hours, and we have all heard all the doom and gloom of Brexit! I know some business owners haven’t had a holiday for years and also plan to work even longer hours in 2017! But let’s think long term, think sustainably, think family, think friends, think wellbeing! Look after yourself, give yourself time off regularly and spend it with your family and friends. Of course by all means do work hard and get things done, but don’t work yourself to the point of damaging your health, please don’t miss out all of your child’s childhood for the sake of proving yourself, for the sake of gaining the world’s approval! Life is more than work. And you can work so much better when you have regular time off!

family time is so precious
Time with my daughter is precious!

I know as business owners, we are all practical people, we are here to drive our business forward, but our business life is more than that, we could change the lives of those around us, our staff, each one of them is a beautiful and unique creation. Let’s create a workplace that is not a machine, but a place where eyes will light up, where lives can be changed, that is our true legacy to this world………

So what is your calling?

Love Scape xxx

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