I never thought of myself as a workaholic, although many called me just that. After all, the job has always been my passion and I have always felt the responsibility.
It took a six-week break (I had accumulated almost a full year of unused vacation days), and climbing Himalaya through Nepal, reaching Base Camp and back, to offer me with some unexpected gifts. It was not only the physical challenge and the final reward of achievement, the beauty of the unusual landscape, and the generosity of the local people.
There was something else…
The first surprise for me was that I did not miss my job. The second was that I actually stopped being anxious about it. And the third was the realization that I HAD BEEN anxious.
I would never admit it before, but I was trapped in compulsory habits, constantly pushing things more and never satisfied; as I built expertise and competence, I was expecting even more from myself. Not only, I was also impatient with others whom I thought were not running as fast, I was very demanding and I was basically driving everybody crazy.
Not that I saw it that way, of course. I simply never stopped to consider. I had built quite a reputation for knowing the business in and out and it felt like no stone could me moved without me. I actually lead others to believe that as well, so nobody would dare to move without consulting me. Which exponentially increased my workload. But I did not mind, I knew I was lucky to have the job of my dreams I knew I could pass on my competence to others and help them avoid mistakes, so I plowed on.
Some tried to hint at my compulsory habits with comments like “you had your time to learn, now give time to others to learn as well” or “you made your mistakes and learnt from them, how about allowing others to learn through their mistakes as well?”; my reply invariably was “We built this company from nothing, now we are world leaders and cannot afford mistakes anymore”. It seemed to make perfect sense to me.
And yet, higher up in the hard and rocky landscape, sweating and panting at every step, things started to appear quite different. Time to think? Not really, the climbing was too demanding. It felt almost like a detox. My mind was free and the mental rush stopped.
The first surprise for me was that I did not miss my job, I thoroughly enjoyed the journey without a second of nostalgia. The second surprise was that anxiety was actually gone; I seemed not to worry at all of all the possible mistakes that could be done without me; this made me realize that I was not mistrusting others, I was simply trapped in my own box of assumptions. I was actually quite sure that everything would be fine upon my return and started to have gentler thoughts about others whom I had almost bullied before; I found myself feeling that we had a great organization with great capable people and they seemed the more competent the farther I climbed through peaks and clouds.
The last surprise was upon my return. I was not fully aware of just how much I had changed, but others were. I started to hear different comments, like “wow, you have calmed down” and “you are definitely more patient now and leave more space to others”. I got a new position (with a nice C-suite title) and I managed to take on this senior role with less anxiety, more delegation, less multitasking (just slightly less) and more attentive listening. People around me seemed to relax too; this was puzzling of course. I delegated more responsibility and they were actually thriving more. Figure that.
It was some years later that I heard about the buzz-word Mindfulness. I think that might just be what happened to me up there. My life got better and better both professionally and at home. Figure that!
I am now retired after 40 years of corporate career, although I am still unable to take it easy: I take on one restructuring project after another (luckily I have a wife with endless home redesign wishes and no time to do it herself with the pressures of her own career), and I do continue to act as consultant and adviser at any possible occasion. But the memory of the mindfulness reached in that long ago journey lingers on with me. I am determined to take the journey once more. I am sure. I am going back to find again mindfulness on Himalaya. What an admission for a workaholic!
Copyright © 2014 Jos van den Nieuwelar