Stay Focused, Stay Balanced, Stay Healthy: Part Two

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This is a post by Gary Bonner, a regular contributor on Blueprint for Financial Prosperity.

This is the conclusion of Stay Focused, Stay Balanced, Stay Healthy article, an article by regular BFP contributor Gary Bonner. Part one is available here.

It was during those 5 hours that I reflected on how I got myself into this health mess. The company was relentless in demanding results on the very visible, very important project that I was providing a considerable amount of shoulder to lift off the ground. This project was a transition and I had to continue doing my former duties as I developed a new project. The requirements consumed me. Even when I was home I didn’t rest because I was planning for the next day’s work in my head.

Laying there listening to the beeping monitors, in between interruptions for x-rays taken by a portable machine and the nurses checking in on me, I started thinking about my family and my loved ones. I thought about how I hadn’t paid any attention to them and had let life events pass me by in the name of “getting the job done.” Then it dawned on me. I remembered a moment twelve years ago, when I had sat on the side of my father’s bed (he was a victim of cancer) as he peacefully took his last breath. My mother, his wife of 50 years, his older son and daughter-in law, his only brother plus his nephew and wife stood next to him.

Then the thought just crystallized from somewhere deep inside: “No one lays on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time at the office.” And here I was. I had crossed the Rubicon with Caesar back into Roman territory. I would never look at corporate life the same. I would do what I had to do but I wouldn’t, couldn’t, bite off more than I could chew ever again.

Over the next several months I underwent a series of stress tests, special echo cardiograms, and finally an angiogram. This procedure runs a tube, with a camera at the end, through your groin muscle through your body cavity to look at the arteries of your heart. You are awake but your body is “knocked down” by a Valium I-V. If there had been blockage, the doctor would have inserted a stent to insure good blood flow. Fortunately the cardiologist, a doctor of world wide respect in his field, announced that there was no blockage and that I had one of the strongest heart muscles he had ever seen.

I wish that was the end of the story.

That was in November 2004.

When I returned to work nothing had changed, the attitude of management had become more unrelenting. I withdrew from the new project to return to my old job. I steadily refused to put in extra effort and felt the heat turn up on me. Timid to fight back because I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to get fired and lose my medical benefits, I operated in a world of conflict between my personal health needs and, from my viewpoint, the demands of a high pressure job. My health broke again. I wound up back in the Emergency Room 3 times between 2005 and 2007.

The last time I said to my doctor who had wheeled me to the ER, “You know, my ticket book from the ambulance company doesn’t only contain round trip tickets. There is a black one that says ‘one way’. I am tired of playing Russian Roulette with my health.”

He agreed.

I needed a lot of rest to stabilize and restore my health. While out on disability the company terminated my employment. (As of this writing I am exploring to see if I have any legal remedies for their action)

I lost out on an opportunity for a lump sum retirement payment and will have to accept a monthly annuity that will be modest at best. Why? Because I demonstrated to the company that I had the capacity and ability to accomplish results with a good work ethic. I gained a reputation as a “go to guy” if you were faced with a hard problem.

One of the rules of business is “if you find someone who can get something done right the first time, give him more to do.” In the 20th century, management took care of their workhorses by grooming, feeding and taking care of productive people. Now, in the 21st century, things are done differently. If a company rides a workhorse until it breaks down, managers just pull their pistol and shoot the horse. They’ll get another one.

Our world runs at lighting speed and is faster than the one I joined thirty-five years ago as a “go-getter.” People now hitting their stride in the work world are quicker, better informed and very energetic. The same was said of my generation by my parents. It is important to know that the fastest and best workhorse today will one day be eclipsed by a younger and faster one. How you use your resources now will determine how long you will stay “in the harness” and how much you will enjoy life. At some point “overtime” will mean something much different than it does today. I found out the hard way.

There are much easier ways: stay focused, stay balanced, stay healthy.

This afternoon, I’ll share with you the thoughts I had when Gary first emailed me this story (we had never intended for this to become a post, it was just a conversation between two people that I felt told a powerful story) and why I asked him to share it with everyone.

{ 9 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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9 Responses to “Stay Focused, Stay Balanced, Stay Healthy: Part Two”

  1. One of the tragedies of the human condition is that our pursuits and priorities are rarely in alignment with each other…

    Most people would list health, family, personal relationships or general well-being as their top priorities in life. In all of my 10 years as a financial planner, not one person has listed money as a priority…

    Yet our pursuits reflect otherwise…

    Unfortunately, it often takes a “shock” of some kind to properly align our pursuits and priorities…

    Thanks for sharing your story. I hope that you have been able to attach meaning and purpose to your suffering. If not, I highly suggest the book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl, a psychotherapist and Holocaust survivor…

    “In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.” ~ Victor Frankl

    “Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.” ~ Viktor Frankl

    “Live as though you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.” ~ Viktor Frankl

  2. From this baby boomer, thanks so much for this post. A definite read for everyone with work/life balance issues.

    It’s not about the money folks.

  3. Kevin says:

    Thanks for sharing this story, Gary. I swore growing up with a father that traveled a lot for work that I would never let the job get in the way of family life. However, I can see myself becoming driven by money and work issues more and more. Luckily, I have a fantastic wife that keeps me in check and have a pretty flexible work schedule.

  4. I think I disagree with everyone’s comments…in my mind, money is terribly important in life, because time is money, and time is the most precious resource we have. My goal is to accumulate enough wealth to own my own time. The best and most proven way to do this is to start early, spend (much) less than you earn, and invest the difference wisely. This will give you the ability to “retire” younger and hopefully be able to pursue the things in your life that you are passionate about, whether that’s starting a business, spending time with your family, travel, charity work, etc.

    While I agree that life is not ultimately about the money, I think it’s disingenuous to underestimate the influence of money on our life and the freedom controlling it can bring.

  5. Sean Patzer, MCSE says:

    Being a Gen Xer who was also a system admin, I understand completely. It can be a real shocker to be taken to PA clinic and have your BP be a 210/120 at 34 yrs old. No heart attack, but dang, that scared the bejesus out of me. The BP was because I was constantly focused on what I was doing and not relaxing like a thought I was. It is a tough balance for some people to find, as we all have different levels of stress I could find. Well, I opted out of the job I was in and found another one that was in a lower stress environment. I have become a different person since then. My BP is down to 120/70, I sleep at nights, I have time with my family and to be honest, the hit in money did not make any difference in my living standards.

    I now work on legacy UNIX systems maintaining older code. 35 and enjoying the slower pace.

  6. Maria says:

    Gary, thanks for sharing your story. It’s a real eye-opener. It worries me, too, though, because even during my few years in the workforce (I’m in my mid-20s), I’ve observed unrelenting employers not only at large corporations but also at startups. In fact, the startup I freelanced at was probably worse, possibly because of business pressures to maintain growth and managers’ relative inexperience.

    I believe there are employers out there who truly do believe in work-life balance for their employees…. It’s simply a matter of finding them. And holding yourself to practicing a decent balance.

    Ryan, do you ever feel as though you’re putting off your life because of your desire to accumulate a certain level of wealth? I’m not saying it’s bad to have financial goals–that’s great. But surely you can find more balance in your life. At least, I hope so.

  7. Fire Crow says:

    Incredibly moving.

  8. Joe Scarfe says:

    Thanks for the unvarnished truth, Gary. I too ran 24/7 as sys admin for a company. Between managing a VoIP/UM conversion, replacing an antiquated DAS server farm with blade servers tied to a redundant SAN mirrored to a colocated site, providing project management and technical implementation of a sharepoint portal which replaced a half dozen custom apps, I provided deskside support for ~175 users. Unfortunately for me, I juggled this workload well enough to allow the management team to avoid hiring a support tech (I was actually proud I could “handle” the stress).

    Long story short, it’s been 15 months since my heart attack. Only 1 stent, but arthroscopic surgery cannot reach 3 other blockages. I consume ~$1500.00 of meds a month to manage the angina and I’m looking at a multi-bypass before I’m 50.

    Plus side of this is I finally get to spend time with my daughters, though I now wish I found another method of balancing my home/work time.

    We need to find ways to educate and work with management to recognize the cost of lost productivity as a result of stress. The actual cost of replacing an employee is enormous – the last estimate I saw indicates in the initial 6 months of employment the $ amount over and above salary to train and mentor a new recruit exceeds 150% of actual wage/benefits paid to the former employee.

    I know of few studies on lost productivity due to physical and emotional burnout, but expect this to become more topical as companies react to reduced productivity.

    We need to find ways to manage our own life balance and do it in such a way that employers realize the benefits of healthy, well-adjusted employees. As you said, stay focused, stay balanced, stay healthy.

  9. Stressed Admin says:

    I’m in the same boat, except I either have to work this stinking job (doing UNIX and Network administration and some DBA work at this pay rate) or go to jail for not paying child support (lost my marriage since working here). I almost ended up in the hospital 2 years ago from the stress. I’ve been looking for another job for at least 5 years now since that’s the only way management will listen….quitting and leaving them hang. They don’t care about you nor your family. You’re just a ‘resource’. I’m not a ‘resource’….I’m a HUMAN BEING idiots. Pray that I get outta here soon before I’m dead.

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