It’s been quite an interesting couple of months in the Charney household, starting back in July when a lightning strike turned a once-noble tree into a bunch of Jack-and-the-Beanstalk-sized toothpicks.
And that was just the Overture.
That lightning strike knocked out two garage door openers, the cable box coming into our house, the air conditioning unit, one computer, and a hard drive. Complete with burn marks.
And so ended Act One.
The incredible rain that accompanied said lightning strike revealed a leak in our basement that appeared to be coming from under our front door. That meant hiring someone to move a very large slab of granite and then take a look…only to find that much of the bottom layer of our front door was rotted out and needed reasonably immediate replacement, and at a cost that rivaled the annual tuition at Dartmouth.
But that was merely Act Two. [Sigh.]
Fast-forward a couple of still stressful months (minor surgery for one of our dogs, bit of a health scare for one of her owners), and we notice an odd—very odd—smell coming from the basement. At first we thought that perhaps something had gone and died down there, but then my wife remarked that it smelled, at least a little bit, like gas. (Fortunately, when you call EnergyNorth and press “1 if you smell gas,” they show up almost before you tap the “End Call” icon on your iPhone.) A few quick tests and the answer comes back: Yep. A hairline leak. In the copper line that runs underground from the tank to the house. Seems the lightning damaged that pipe, and we’ve just lost 300 gallons of propane.
Ahhh… but there’s more….
We then faced a little bit of a cold snap, an early fall nip in the air. (Here in New Hampshire it’s not that strange to get a September night that dips near freezing.) So we ever-so-reluctantly broke down and turned on the heat for the first time this season. Only the heat wasn’t cooperating. The lightning apparently knocked out the furnace, too, and it was another three weeks before all approached normal once more….
Why are we bothering to tell you all of this? For one simple reason: This kind of stuff happens often. And to lots of people. People you work with. People you work for or who work for you. People you sit around conference tables with and talk on the phone to. Every day. Often you can’t really see it, but it’s there somewhere. People’s lives are complex, messy things, built with recurring stresses.
In our case, no one we worked with really had any idea how much stress we were under. We still got up each day and did what we needed to do to help our clients, meet our deadlines, submit our proposals, etc., but there was no question that things were just a wee bit off. Patience was a bit thinner, days were broken between work and visiting repairmen, and a few things—the least important ones for the most part—slipped by a day or two now and then.
As each day went by the volume on the stress-o-meter turned up just a little bit more. Our work-life balance…wasn’t.
If you look around you, the odds are good that at least someone nearby is dealing with a work-life imbalance. Maybe an older relative has a sudden health problem or a child is fighting a chronic cough. Maybe a credit card bill is overdue or a ten-year old car needs an engine rebuild. These are all just different kinds of lightning strikes, and we do well, as managers and leaders, to remember that everyone around us has something that they’re dealing with, some part of their life that they’re trying to bring back into balance.
We won’t always know what’s going on. Some people mask their issues with stoicism while others live a heart-on-sleeve existence. But it doesn’t matter. As leaders, we only need to remember that work-life balance isn’t a thing people have or don’t have, but a thing people continually work at. Recognizing this truth makes us more effective as leaders.
What’s been your experience? How do you help others through their times of stress, and how have others helped you?