Many Americans tend to be driven to work hard and often put work ahead of everything else. We are unique in the world in this way and, while some of the drive is probably unavoidable to be able to afford to buy food and shelter, even those for whom survival is not an issue are often driven to make more and more money or do more and more, almost like machines. But, we are not machines and sometimes that reminder springs up like a jack in the box to remind us. It could be that a cold or flu strikes. And for those with children, work is impacted by their needs, positive, like school events, or negative, like having to stay home with a sick child. But, most of these events are short duration events. In writing this blog I am thinking about how we all, at some points in our careers have to work around and through major life changes. Specifically, I’m more aware than ever that as baby boomers age, our parents are aging to the point that looking after their health and well being becomes a part time job (and sometimes, full time). These life developments can come suddenly or gradually – building up to the point of realizing how much effort is required to deal with these issues. I observed my parents as they helped their parents or other elderly family members by expanding the household to include and care for them. And, with those examples, and the experiences with Melissa’s mother’s last few years, we have, fortunately been able to help my parents plan for their future in a way to minimize the surprises and problems for them, and me/us, along the way. Planning for life changes beats reacting to them and the panic that comes with being in reaction mode. It is, however, not fun or pain free. It can be emotional and physically draining, but the reality is that “real life” will interfere with work and it is unrealistic and unhealthy to think it does not.
As John Lennon famously wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” (from “Beautiful Boy”). I interpret this song lyric to mean that, regardless of what I may have planned, sometimes, life will get in the way. There are many dimensions to life, one of which is work. As much as I would like work to be the focal point of my life, due to the fact that I am a small business owner who is never 100% “off work,” there are numerous occasions when work has to become something other than my top priority. One of the most negative work experiences I had was a few months before my mother’s death from dementia. In the years, months, and weeks prior to her passing, caring for her was a full time job for my brother and a part time job for my husband/business partner and me. Although we had professional caregivers who provided excellent care for her in her home, Mom’s condition worsened in many ways that required me, as her health care surrogate and power of attorney, to attend meetings with her physician and other health care team members. Because my schedule is hectic, planning meeting times in my hometown, located several hours from where I live, was a daunting task. An important meeting, dealing with end of life issues for my mother, was planned, after which a long time client requested my presence at his jury selection. Although Magnus had another consultant, equally qualified as I, who had conducted this client’s pre-trial research, the client insisted that I select his jury. When David attempted to explain that I had an important meeting pertaining to my mother that could not be changed, conflicting with the jury selection, instead of thoughtfully taking things in stride, the client began to threaten me, saying that, if I did not cancel my meeting with Mom’s team of health care professionals, he would never retain Magnus again. Needless to say, I did the right thing: I attended the important meeting with my mother’s physician and medical team, which was the final meeting we had prior to her passing. Also, needless to say, the client has honored his word to never hire me again. It is during times when “life happens while you’re busy making other plans” that people’s true character emerges!
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