Storytime: Working With People Who Care About More Than Just Work
As many of our closest friends and clients know, I spent much of 2012 undergoing a series of unexpected surgeries—each one more frustrating than the last, each one required to fix the problems created by the previous surgery.
The surgeries required I spent much of the year working from a laptop with a view very much like what you see in the photo to the right. I was stuck on a lawn chair so as to keep my foot elevated and my crutches from seeing too much use.
A dark and lonely tunnel
It's been nearly 2 years since I found myself staring down a dark tunnel, facing a potential reality of not being able to walk correctly, be active, or do what I love most in life ever again.
I was looking at the possibility of going from being an active outdoorsperson to living a life of compounding, chronic physical problems and increasing sedentariness (<--that may or may not be a word, but I'm guessing you get the gist).
Fast forward to the end of April 2013
Everything had been changing. Everything was suddenly different and I was finding the light at the end of the tunnel was real, and nearly within reach.
I found myself skinning (hiking uphill on skis on snow) from the bottom to the top of the local ski resort (which had closed for the season) and snowboarding down.
I'd gone from being partially sedentary to enjoying 3-hour, deliciously brutal cardio sessions made possible by a freak Colorado snowstorm that poured down soft powder—which is kind and gentle and forgiving to a traumatized ankle joint.
And we're talking about someone (me) with a passion for snowboarding who'd not been able to be on a board for two years.
I'm unapologetic passionate about snowboarding. It's part of who I am; I've been doing it for over 20 years (see picture below -- this was my first snowboard, circa 1993).
Needless to say, I was over the moon.
Happier than I'd been in years.
After coming in from the fresh air during the snow-filled week and talking to new prospects, working with clients, and doing my work, I found myself connecting with people with more ease and smiling big as I answered emails and talked to people on the phone.
Work became more fun.
Every part of every day became rosier and more enjoyable.
After 2 years of longing to someday again have more in my life than just work, I found myself listening more deeply, caring more deeply, and feeling more fulfilled with work.
Here's the part where I learned about a client type with which we don't work well
One day during my special snow week, I had a lovely early morning of being out on the quiet, deserted ski resort for a few hours.
The beautiful, special morning looked like this:
I hadn't been outside, living life like this in over 2 years, and I only had a few days to take advantage of the soft snow before Spring plowed into our area with full force, melting all of it away.
I came inside from my early morning outing, excited about a day of work I knew would extend well into the evening to make up for the morning hours I'd missed .
I found an email that had been sent late the evening before from a client saying, "Please call me ASAP."
I picked up the phone and called the client.
The phone call
"Hello Erin. Thank you for calling me; I need some immediate text updates to our site. I'm surprised you didn't call me earlier."
I in turn felt surprised. The client's email hadn't been sitting in my inbox for even 2.5 business hours.
"Were you at a meeting or on the phone this morning?"
I again felt surprised. I wondered why the client was asking how I'd spent my morning.
"No," I answered.
I then gave the client a 30 second summary of my magical morning.
What followed: a whole lot of silence on the other end of the phone
"I'm sorry..." the client finally said disbelief.
"Did you just tell me you were outside riding powder on a work morning when I've been sitting here waiting for you to call me? You left work because there was new snow??"
I was dumbfounded. "Yes." I answered.
I had hoped this client would be happy I'd just received a new lease on life and was enjoying it to the fullest during the few days I could before the temperatures started increasing.
Nope. She wasn't happy.
"I CANNOT believe this. This is, this is.... absolutely irresponsible. This is what I'd expect from some, some... college freelancer or ski bum. We didn't hire your company so you could just leave work to go out and play during regular business hours when you should be available to your clients. You weren't here for me this morning because you felt it was more important to go outside. I want this update soon and it's now obvious to me you don't take your work seriously and it's now obvious you think your 'snowboarding' is more important than your clients. What kind of business do you run?? You should have called me first thing this morning, BEFORE you left. I have updates I want and you were being a ski bum. This is unacceptable."
I agreed. It was unacceptable.
After sitting silent, listening to the client's admonition, I quietly, carefully, and respectfully informed her that it would probably (and by probably I meant categorically) be best if we didn't work together anymore.
We just weren't a good match.
Values and the way we all think about life inevitably bleed into our work. And sometimes values and outlooks on life just don't match up well.
My client and I simply held very different outlooks about what's important in life and what it means to live.
It was on this day I learned I needed to add a new bullet point to our list of what we look for in our clients and who we work best with.
Up until this day our list had included qualities like:
- strong potential for ROI
- clear goals/vision of success
- ability to make good, prompt decisions
- openness to change/new possibilities and options
- looking for consultancy and expert opinions vs. contractors who do whatever they're told
My phone call taught me it was time to add "an appreciation that life is more than just work" to the list.
Later that morning...
During 2 separate phone calls I had later that morning, I heard the following statements from clients after they found out what I'd just experienced:
"THAT IS ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC!!! WE ARE SO, SO HAPPY FOR YOU!!"
"GOOD FOR YOU, ERIN! WAY TO LIVE LIFE AND GET BACK OUT THERE AFTER SO LONG!!"
I continued to hear many similar joyous statements from various clients over the following weeks when conversations about "What's been going on?" turned into a sharing of recent experiences.
Our best clients were sincerely happy and joyous about my rediscovered ability to experience outdoor life.
Life is more than work (for us, at least)
We love our work.
We love our clients.
We also love life.
Here at TimeForCake we believe a fulfilled life is one that values and incorporates more than just work—and it doesn't matter whether "more than just work" translates into valuing/spending time on children, church, travel, physical activity, hobbies, friends, art, or something completely different.
And it was this phone call that taught me the likelihood of us being a great fit for a client who strongly believes otherwise... is probably going to be very low.
And that's okay. We're all different.
Let's simply embrace and respect these differences, though—not tell others they're wrong because of them.
Let's try to be more aware and selective about who we hire and work with. Let's do our best to partner with those who share our values so we can build strong, mutually beneficial, profitable working relationships—instead of expecting those we work with to change and be more like ourselves.