In the current climate, I’m cautious to discuss a topic that would appear to be aimed towards men and as the title of this blog might crassly state the obvious, I am mindful that the message can apply to anyone however, in my experience, it’s the men who really need to be reminded of the need for emotional balance, the need for the acceptance of help when required and above all, the need for men to leave their ego and perception of masculinity outside and step into a world of embracing vulnerability. Again, not to suggest that all people aren’t susceptible to feeling overwhelmed, women appear much better at recognising it and dealing with their emotions than most men.
It was through the tragedy of the suicide of a client and friend of my business partner that brought the reality of the consequences of hiding emotional pressures of life squarely into our focus. The tragic loss of a husband, father, friend, business leader and colleague in sudden and totally unexpected circumstances forced everyone within that large circle to wonder what they could’ve done if they’d seen the signs or how things might be different if he’d just reached out.
It can be a lonely place when you’re required to lead a business and you do so effectively. Absorbing the problems and pressures of those in your team and supporting their issues, attempting to reassure those at your level or above that you’re up to the task and everything is OK. Not griping down is the MO of any good leader and so it was with our friend.
Months after his death, when the acceptance of the loss and the mechanisms of grief were seeming to assist with getting on with life, my business partner James joined forces with our client and the amazing people at Lifeline to create a program to encourage men in business to be mindful of their reality and to be open to the possibility of feeling overwhelmed. With a healthy donation in his honour and the permission of the family left behind, a program was created that commenced with the bringing together over a lunch about 25 of Newcastle’s business leaders and executives to hear the story of impact of this loss from those who felt it the most. It was an emotional and heart wrenching experience to listen to the familiar story that drove home the message that no one is immune to feeling overwhelmed.
With my business partner James being one of the engineers of the concept of the lunch and also the donor of the funding for the program, I was immensely proud of his commitment to his late friend and family and even more so when he delivered a profoundly emotional, stirring and totally on point message to those in attendance.
“Take care of your balls” he started to a chorus of hearty man laughs and chuckles from around the table. He continued: Most of you have two balls, or should have, but picture these two balls, a rubber ball and a crystal ball. Everyone here, without exception takes their career seriously. You all take your reputation seriously and your integrity and your future career. These are things in your life that you’ve worked and studied hard to achieve and it makes sense that you might think that this is your crystal ball.
Think now about your life outside work. Your health, your relationships, your family, your partner or wife, your friends and mates, your recreation or downtime. These things no doubt, you make time for outside of the pressures of work and more often than not, some of them don’t get the attention they need. The meeting after work replaces the dinner at home with the family. The deadlines and projects mean you might miss a sports carnival or two but they happen every year right? You haven’t played golf or gone surfing for months because you’re just too busy.
This is your rubber ball. You know these things are important, but they’ll bounce back. They’ll still be there when you get more time. Bullshit.
“Reverse your thinking before it’s too late” James told the now silent group who’d stopped eating what was in front of them.
“Your job, that meeting, your career, the money, the car, the desk and the office – all totally replaceable. This should be your rubber ball.”
“Your wife, your kids, your friends, your health, your sanity…. once they’re gone, good luck getting them back. This is your crystal ball that you absolutely can’t drop. Not even once.”
James, showing everyone present that he was embracing vulnerability by delivering this message on behalf of his late friend and becoming emotional himself had just reversed the priorities of some pretty influential people who like to think they’re in control and he did it humbly and with respect, acknowledging that these weren’t his words, he heard them somewhere before and couldn’t recall exactly where but they were so relevant to this gathering that he felt compelled to share them.
Some years have passed now since that day, but the message is still as raw as the day it was delivered. I use the metaphor frequently and share the message with others where appropriate but more importantly, I hold the crystal ball tighter than ever and make sure there’s enough air in the rubber ball to keep it bouncing.