Finding the right balance

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Graham Johnson, managing director at UKi Media & Events, ponders whether an engineer needs to make sacrifices to produce the best-possible engine

A colleague recently sent me a link to a video of a motivational speaker. I’d never watched such content before – ironically because I’m typically too busy working – but I have to say I found the video rather gripping. Indeed, I then went on to watch a further two videos made by the same motivational man. The topic of his videos is limited to ‘How to get rich’ and ‘How to escape the rat race’. And what did I find so interesting? This guy, an American in his mid- to late forties, spouted utter drivel, yet his YouTube channel has almost two million subscribers and some of his videos have been watched millions of times!

One of the things this ‘entrepreneur’ frequently repeats is the fact that he had literally worked every Saturday of his twenties, taking weekends off only once he met his wife just before he turned 30. Where did he work? At his dad’s rather successful retail chain. Hmmmm. He’d not exactly burned the midnight oil studying, graduating and then busting down doors to get a job, had he?

By now, you’ll be wondering how this man made his millions. Well, he saved money – hundreds of thousands of dollars – because he lived at home with his parents and then rented a small apartment. He lived a humble life, opting to save rather than waste money on luxuries. Once he had saved his money, he then invested in companies on the stock market, etc. To be fair to the guy, he seems to have been rather good at it and made a lot of money (although I can’t help but notice that he now seems to be making a lot of money from people watching his videos and live seminars about making money!).

So there you have it: the recipe to success is getting a job in the family business, save money, then invest in companies. And voilà! And that concludes this column – only it doesn’t…

Watching all of this online rhetoric, I remembered a conversation I once had with an engineer from a tuning arm of a German OEM around the turn of the century. It was late – around 11:00pm – and it was the press launch of a new sports car. The engineer in question was in his early thirties and he had a young family. Two kids, I recall. He’d been on the press launch for around two weeks before he got to sit next to me at the bar. And he’d had a few drinks by the time we started talking.

Cue an emotional rant to me, a complete stranger, about how he was always working, he never saw his family, and he just couldn’t take it anymore. He’d given it his all to get to where he was, studying hard at school and university, and subsequently starting at the bottom of the company until he worked his way up. He was in theory living his childhood dream, but the reality of the workload was that it was not a dream.

He sacrificed everything he cared about to be the best engineer he could be. He wanted to make great cars. For years I wondered what had happened to this exhausted engineer, only for him to pop up in a high-profile role in a British company around five years ago. I was pleased to see he’d kept at it and that his sacrifices had clearly paid off. And I can guarantee you he still works just as hard. Is he rich? He’s no doubt doing more than okay. Is he happy? I like to think he has found some kind of work-life balance, but perhaps that’s just wishful thinking.

I know from my own experience that we’re all wired very differently. I oversee a team of over 150 people, and can see those who are hell-bent on doing the best-possible job they can. Note I didn’t write ‘hell-bent on making money’, because truly successful people make money because they want to excel at what they do. They make money by default. This community of workers don’t sleep for worrying about their work.

Then there are the folk who care quite a lot about their work, but equally care about their private life too. They’ll leave the office by 6:00-6:30pm latest. They sometimes work through lunch. They never work a weekend or while on holiday.

And then you have the ‘shelf stackers’. Every business needs shelf stackers, the shop worker who will do nothing but fill the shelves with the produce others have created. They always have lunch. They go to the toilet at 5:25pm before the bell rings at 5:30pm. They never reply to email or generate an email outside of working hours. They do their job – often perfectly well – but no more. They are the ‘life is too short’ brigade. They are almost certainly financially poorer than the above. But here’s the irony: they are probably the community watching the get rich videos!

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