There are many aspects to wellbeing, and many things that organisations can do to help employees. One component is helping people to think well, and I want to explore just one element of that – the power of perspective – and illustrate it through two personal experiences.
Whilst preparing to leave ‘the corporate world’ after 20 years service, to set up my own business, I was looking to change my car. Foolishly, perhaps, I went to look at the car that I really wanted and I had one on loan for the weekend. Falling in love with the car, I handed the loan car back to the dealer deciding that this was the car for me. And then promptly got cold feet; preparing to make a change from a regular salary to running my own business (with the ultimate in performance-related pay. i.e. no guarantee of any salary) during a recession, I decided not to change my car. And over the space of a few weeks, I saw loads of people driving ‘my car’ and I got progressively more grumpy and frustrated. And then I headed off to Africa for the first time, to spend a month doing leadership development and coaching for volunteers, and I found myself in the slums of Kampala (Uganda) talking to street children (who live rough on the streets of the city) and listening to their stories. I sat and talked to children who had scruffy clothes, no shoes, no possessions in the world, nobody to care for them, nowhere to sleep and they told me about how thankful they were; for getting fed occasionally, for being alive, for their friends. And suddenly, the car didn’t matter any more.
I have what I refer to as my ‘weekend job’ as I am licensed as a lay minister (a ‘Reader’) in the Church of England, and I embarked on the training for this (doing a theology degree in my spare time) at the same time as I left the corporate world to set up my own business. After 3 years of really hard work in both parts of my life, I embarked on some post-licensing study in the form of a cheerful-sounding course called ‘death and grief’ in order to allow me to officiate at funerals. After a busy week of work, I had to get up really early on a Saturday for a study day at a crematorium. Much as I would love to claim that I was happy to do this, as it equips me to be there for people when they need help… I was actually resentful (about not having a lie-in, seeing my family, and catching up on some work) and was somewhat distracted on the day. And then we’re doing the full behind-the-scenes tour and we’re about to see the cremation process for ourselves, and I’m stood next to a coffin. And I glance at the label, and notice that it is a man just a few weeks younger than me. And everything changes. And when I arrive home, I have a big smile on my face. Things I had been worrying about, I stopped worrying about. Some things I had been neglecting were suddenly important. Everything changed. Well, nothing had actually changed, had it? Just my perspective.
One of the many ways we can help people with their wellbeing is to help them with their perspective. It can change everything.