Let’s kick this discussion off with a question…
Do you live to work, or do you work to live?
Be really honest with yourself here…
Are you the sort of person who enjoys their life and their time away from work, someone who manages to support that lifestyle with a job that they love, but that doesn’t consume every waking minute?
Wouldn’t that be nice!?
Chances are, because you’re a passionate, driven and highly motivated business owner, that the opposite is true.
You find yourself working in your business almost endlessly, putting in the hours and then putting in more hours on top of that, just to keep things going in the right direction.
You probably can’t remember the last time you took a real break from the business, let alone a holiday, and your brain is constantly working overtime, even when you’re not actually ‘at work’.
You don’t need to fall into an existential crisis, just yet.
This is a perfectly normal situation for business owners to find themselves in.
Perfectly normal this may be, but is it healthy?
The answer is simple – “No”.
If you’re familiar with the parable of ‘The Businessman and The Ferryman’, we apologise, but it’s good to refresh your memory sometimes, and who doesn’t like a story?
Here’s our version…
Are you sitting comfortably?
Then I’ll begin.
Picture the scene, Shanghai, in the mid 1980s.
China’s economy is booming and the city of Shanghai is full of all the hustle and bustle of any sprawling metropolis.
On the outskirts of the city is a river. A river that must be crossed twice a day by thousands of commuters, as they make their way to the city centre, from the surrounding towns and villages.
To cross the river, these money driven, career focused businessmen and women employ the services of an army of ‘ferrymen’ – people with their own boats who transport commuters back and forth across the river.
Every day for several years, as a force of habit, the businessman in our story travels with the same ferryman.
The businessman is dressed from head to toe in an expensive designer suit and shoes, carrying his briefcase and trying to keep up appearances. He is focused only on the business, and he rarely, if ever, has a day off.
The ferryman is also motivated to succeed, his ferry business does well enough to support his family, and he enjoys being out on the water, meeting new people and providing a vital service.
One day, the businessman asks the ferryman what he’s doing with his life.
“Where’s the progression? Surely you can’t be making much money doing this? What’s the point?”
The ferryman smiles and replies…
“I love the job, and I can take a break whenever I like. Sometimes the weather decides that for me, and sometimes I decide for myself.”
This doesn’t satisfy the business man’s curiosity, and he continued to interrogate the ferryman about his apparent lack of success, before boasting of his own.
“I’ve got four people working for me and I work 6 days a week. The money is rolling in, and pretty soon, I’ll be living in the city and I won’t need to take the ferry. I can’t wait to leave all this behind and make a huge success of things.”
Again, the ferryman smiles.
“I’m pleased for you. I really am.”
The businessman tuts, and they finish the journey in silence.
A few weeks later, the businessman arrives at the riverside looking flustered. A storm has kicked up and none of the ferries are crossing the river.
It’s one of those days when the weather has decided it’s time for the ferryman to take a day off.
“Sorry sir, we can’t cross this morning. It’s too dangerous.”
This is not welcome news.
The nearest bridge would add an hour or two onto the commute for the businessman, and he’s already having a stressful morning.
“Don’t you know how important it is that I make this meeting on time? This is worth a fortune to me!”
The ferryman acknowledges his frustration, but refuses again on the grounds of safety. He is an experienced sailor, and knows that to cross in the middle of the storm could be life threatening.
Through sheer desperation, the businessman throws his briefcase into the bottom of the ferry and decides that he’ll take his chances, and do it for himself.
The ferryman protests, not for his ferry boat, but for the safety of the businessman.
Before he can rush to stop him, the businessman pushes off from the bank and starts the crossing.
This has drawn a crowd by now, and the ferrymen and frustrated commuters watch on through half closed eyes.
It doesn’t take long before the ferry comes into trouble.
Water spills over the sides and the businessman moans that his shoes are ruined. A moment later, a big gust of wind causes his briefcase to fall into the water. This is gut wrenching for the businessman, and he becomes so distraught that he fails to see that the ferry is beginning to turn into the wind.
The unthinkable happens, and the ferry tips over, sending the businessman into the water and the upturned ferry off downstream at high speed.
Whilst all this was happening, the ferryman had used his experience and knowhow to take a second ferry out onto the water. With great skill in the face of the challenging weather conditions, he had managed to position himself just close enough to the first ferry, that he was within reach of the rescue.
The ferryman threw out a life ring to the businessman, and hauled him into the second boat, saving his life.
After steering them safely back to the shore, the businessman laments the loss of his briefcase, and the damage done to his clothes, before half thanking the ferryman for saving his life.
The ferryman’s ferry was long gone, down the river and never to be seen again.
Fortunately though, and here’s the twist, his success as a ferryman had meant that he’d built up quite a successful business over the years, and his fleet included eleven other boats.
The incident was a loss, of course it was, but his own life and the life of one of his most valuable customers were much more important things to consider.
The next day, after the storm, the businessman was back, eager to cross the river and to get back to the office.
The ferryman was nowhere to be seen, and neither were any of the men who worked for him.
Just eleven ferry boats, tied up in a row.
They were all having a much needed day off…