My Son, My Teacher

I’ve spent a lot of time in my life collecting letters after my name, and while I realize knowledge is power, as it turns out, the MBA I earned (on top of an already useless graduate degree) wasn’t the most educational experience of my life. In September of 2012 I become a late-in-life mother and while I’ve studied with some pretty successful people during my career, it has been my son who has taught me the most about how I approach work.

The concept of “work/life” balance is only meant for those who try to separate out the different 8 hour segments of their life. I don’t believe in work/life balance. I believe in work and how it incorporates directly into your life. In other words, if your work doesn’t mesh with your lifestyle or is incongruent with your value system – you should find another job. Yes. It really is that simple.

It is not a secret I hit a bit of a rocky patch recently. I accepted a new job, flew out to Arizona for training, and three weeks later the entire world was sent home. Trying to juggle new job responsibilities coupled with being a single mom, and worrying about how to get my kid to pass the first grade (turns out it isn’t that hard) was very stressful. Thanks to COVID, what was suppose to be a remote work-from-home-job became ‘being at home, while working, in the middle of a global crisis – oh and you’re a teacher now, too’. Utter fucking chaos. I promise you. I almost 5150’ed myself just to get a nap.

When my supervisor and I met recently about the upcoming year and goals, I had to be honest with him. I simply said “Is it enough to just log into my queue, do a phenomenal job, and clock out at the end of the day? I don’t have the energy to study for any PMP certifications, review and start on a management track or usurp you for your job.” He totally got me and said “Absolutely. I’ll put your goal as ‘Stay alive’. “ (Yay! for good bosses).

I do like having my son home with me, though, even if I have to force him to sit next to me and log into an app to do math. Just watching him at play has made me rethink my working style – but also, maybe it’s my age. I don’t know. I don’t care. One day, I watched him in action and realized he really does have some key managerial skills. And so, I share with you today the five things I have learned about work from watching my son.

1) Focus on one thing at a time. My son has the attention span of an ant. But, when he plays – he plays with one toy at a time. When he’s finished, he moves on to the next one. I watched him for a few hours and learned he doesn’t play with the same toy again until he’s gone through the entire group. In other words, he doesn’t bounce from one toy to the other and back again. He exhausts the ‘daily life’ of one toy before getting the next. Research continues supports the fact that multitasking is truly ineffective and produces bad results. To excel at work, stop multi-tasking and focus on one task at a time. I recently started doing this again (I fell off the wagon when I was a people-pleaser). It’s a hard habit to break, but if you remain diligent you’ll be happier and more productive.

2) If it isn’t fun, you won’t do it. My little guy never argues when he gets ‘tablet time’. He loves his tablet. What he does dislike is bedtime. He fights me every time I try to get him to settle down for bed. Suddenly he’s hungry. He needs a drink. He wants me to read him a book – even though he is eight and reads at a fourth grade level (Ahem…those are my genes). As it turns out, I have some things I love to do at work and other things I do not love to do. Job descriptions aside, we really should find ways to have our staff working 90% of the time on things they love to do. That way, everyday is like tablet time.

3) Do the thing you dislike most first thing in the morning. My kid hates to wear pants so I make him get up, go pee, and put pants on first thing. But, once finished, he settles in and the rest of the day is a breeze. For me, I rarely check email first thing in the morning (it is a distraction that takes hours from which I can never seem to recover). So, I check the ticket queue first, plan my day and then finally log into email about 10 a.m. to see if anything is on fire…and then I don’t look at it again until after lunch.

4) Taking a break makes you a happier person. Ahhh, what I wouldn’t do for a nap right now. You, too, huh? I need a proverbial ‘nap’ once in a while. This means, I step away from my desk and my phone. I silence the email ‘ding’ on my mobile devices, and I get into nature. I’ve started paying a sitter once a week on Thursday nights, whether I have anything planned or not. I typically do, though, because that’s my yoga night. As a side note, my son and I kick off every weekend on Friday at 5 pm by listening to this song on YouTube. We’ve done it every week since he was a baby. It really helps me break the “work connection” for the weekend. (Plus puts a pretty snazzy tune in your head for quite a while. You can thank me later.)

He's got it figured out
This is my baby…eight years ago. Man I miss those days.

5) You don’t have to be friends with everyone. My son is 8 and he’s on the Autism Spectrum. I sometimes get jealous because he has an excuse to be an asshole to people…that’s just the way some ASD folks are (think Sheldon Cooper). He just doesn’t seem to be that interested in other people unless they are of like minds. He finds his tribe. Being remote requires more effort, but I’ve sought out my own tribe and we have virtual happy hours sometimes and talk about the others. But, back to my son…I seriously believe he truly gets that some people are simply taking up space and he doesn’t go out of his way to engage people he doesn’t like. I love this idea! It has been extremely freeing for me. Even though I, too, am an introvert (an INTJ to be exact!) I still feel the need to entertain everyone and engage everyone and chat it up with everyone. No more. Observing him has allowed me to give myself permission To. Just. Be. Me. I’ll wait to see if anyone wants to entertain me for a change. And then politely turn down the invitation in lieu of a glass of wine and a book.

And, folks, fair warning: I’m taking some much needed time off BUT I’ve scheduled some posts in advance. My novel, Train Whistles, needs my attention – I need to rewrite the ending – so if my posts don’t feel like they are in the vein of my normal stuff, please keep reading.

I don’t have any questions for you to ponder today, but I will leave you with a song. I hope you have a great evening!