Re-Examining the Work & Quality-of-Life Equation


The following is a guest post by Michael Byers, President of  The Byers Group, a marketing consulting firm in the mid-west. I’ve known Mike for quite some time, and he has an impressive career as a marketing executive for some of the largest companies in B2B marketing. But I didn’t ask Mike for this post because of his marketing insight (although he easily could have provided that).  I asked him because I was intrigued by his move from “big time marketer” to running his own firm.  It’s those insights that I think you’ll find interesting. Thanks for the contribution Mike.

by Mike Byers

Going to depart from my usual practice of offering up Sarketing®, marketing and sales advice today because, over the last six months, I have come into contact with an uncharacteristically high number of contacts who are either miserable in their work, in a job transition or at some other crossroad in their life where the work decision will come down to a choice between drudgery or tranquility.

In my conversations, I often ask them, “Is your money costing you too much?” (or will your money cost you too much?).  This phrase came about when I was doing international marketing and, although staying in wonderful hotels doing “glamorous” hospitality marketing for tourist organizations/companies, I woke up in Haiti one day on an extended work trip and realized how much I didn’t like this life.

In the final examination, I didn’t like the travel, didn’t like the weather (including at my home base in Orlando), missed my friends and girlfriend (later to become my wife) back in Michigan, didn’t have my “items of familiarity” and toys around me much of the time…and I said to myself that morning in Haiti, “My money is costing me too much.”  Immediately on my return, I began to research jobs in Michigan and was back within six months.  

It ultimately didn’t matter how much money I was making if I wasn’t happy.

Maybe because it is my birthday, maybe because I am dealing with parental health issues or maybe it is because of the drain of spirit caused by the daily business news that I feel the need to reiterate some points about the importance of eking every little ounce of joy out of our time here…and a lot of this time is spent at work.

Do You Like What You Do?

This one always astounds me because it transcends position from those “working the line” to those in the boardroom.  I have seen presidents/CEO and other high ranking executives look like trapped rats because they were promoted to, aspired for or were dropped into positions where they did not like the activities they had to execute on a daily basis (not to mention the additional workload on their lives and/or time away from their family because of travel).   

Because of my role, I can ask difficult questions and the one that is always interesting is, “are you happy doing this? Because you know you could be doing something else…”.  

The amount of squirming, rationalizations and pontificating at that point is pretty amazing, however, we both know it is all a façade.  In the best cases, the question begins a more protracted process on the part of the executive toward a better place for them much more in-tune with their personality and personal essence.  In the worse cases they return to lives of quiet desperation knowing that someone else knows the truth of what they feel.

If Not Now…When?

Few of us have the means to just up and leave a position.  Most of us have responsibilities that have to be taken into consideration whenever contemplating a change.  However, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there”.  So if your money is costing you too much, you need a plan to get to another place….start now.

I recently heard a refreshing story about a young man who was trapped in a large corporation and yearned to work with a local, hip digital company.  He sought out one of the leaders of the company and flat out asked, “what do I need to do learn to be part of this organization”?  The leader was kind enough to spend some time with him and outline the skill sets and “merit badges” someone needed to be of value to the organization.

Over the next 2.5 years the young man learned the skills and gained the experience he needed so that when he went back to the leader and presented his work, there was nothing the executive could do but hire him.

Most companies have enough leeway to allow people to learn new skills either formally or through experience (I gained valuable lead generation, CRM and sales process skills simply because I declared they were things I wanted to learn/do for the corporation and they let me concentrate on them).  Whether at work or some other learning institution, find out what you need to know to move to the next position that better fits you (this includes networking and information gathering exercises) and get going.

A Land of Abundance

When I was first starting to my consulting business, I was helped by my friend who repeatedly communicated his mantra to me, “we live in a land of abundance”, to which I would add, “if we are willing to provide the market with whatever it is calling for”. 

His point was, that for all the challenges we think we have and with all the challenges the country has, there is an abundance of work available if you are ready to think unconventionally and serve the market.  Along the way, you can probably figure out a niche that satisfies your workplace desires and characteristics.

None of my friends or the people in my network are poor No one’s going to have to sell pencils on a street corner.  In fact, they are pretty high up on the food chain and Maslow’s hierarchy chart in comparison to others in the world and even in our country. 

Poor is in the barrios I saw in Haiti or any city in India.  We simply have come to think that the world will fall down if we don’t have a level of “stuff” that we want.  As I recently told one of my friends in transition, “you will still drink wine, it just may come from a box instead of France for a while, but life is good and there is hope and opportunity all around us”.

Much to my wife’s frustration, I didn’t need a single thing for my birthday.  I have clothes that I haven’t worn (some with the tags still on them), I have more fly rods/reels than I can ever use and we eat well every day.  What we don’t have is overhead in the form of “stuff” that costs us so much on a constant basis that we have to work harder for or are in jobs we don’t want to do to pay to maintain the stuff (reminds me of that kid’s ditty, “it’s the song that never ends”). 

If you really want to bring the time and effort of what you do into balance with living (like time off, flexibility, time with friends or whatever you “time value”), examine your stuff and see where you might make trade-offs.

I don’t want to presume that any of this is easy.  It’s not and I don’t expect to be moving into the self help genre any time soon. 

However, when I see people in places where they don’t want to be, their attitude and demeanor changes immediately when they begin to focus on positive things and move toward a better path, so I offer these up simply as general thoughts and insertion into your “for what it is worth…” file.

On the other hand, as I said in the beginning, I can’t help but see the frequency of the dismay out there in the workplaces I visit and the “soul sucking” effect it has on people.  Many will continue their path without question, but if you come across someone with a hope for something better, please pass on this e-mail and my number if I can help.

Be well…