A rounded life
A very wise boss once said to me: “I have just appointed you to a demanding job. It will take a lot of your time but I don’t want you to become obsessed with it. You will do this job best if you are a rounded person, someone who sees all aspects of life, who knows what is going on in the world.” It surprised me to hear that. It was well known that I had a wide range of interests – my large and growing family, my own business, field sports, opera, ballet, theatre, music, politics. I had expected to have to curtail these activities in order to do my new job.
Here was my boss telling me to keep rounded, to lift my head from the balance sheet, to see more of the world than my profit targets. I did what he suggested and I am very glad that I did, and ever grateful to him for his advice. It enabled me to see markets we would never have entered, to have a vision for the business that nobody had thought of before, to see a wider and longer perspective than would otherwise have been possible. It enabled me to develop a valuable business. And I did it by taking his advice.
Rounded can be quite sharp, you see.
It also enabled me to enjoy life in a way that is increasingly difficult today – even without the virus. I could think about our purpose, our responsibilities and our targets in personal life as well as the commercial necessities that were mandatory. I had time to reflect on what we were doing to the planet and speculate on the possible consequences. Of course, I had no idea things were going to get as bad as they have done, with fires in the USA and Australia and other parts of the world throwing into the atmosphere a volume of carbon quite unprecedented in the planet’s history.
My objective to have a rounded life started over forty years ago. We live in an era of specialisation now. It is essential for some people to focus on the most minute details in order to develop the next infinitesimally small camera to travel round your body or the most intricate of equations to estimate a landing on another planet. Inevitably, those involved in such work spend much of their time focused in a way difficult to combine with being rounded. The default position for all of us is to concentrate on the things we need to do, and then the things we want to do – and who wants to bother with the scally-wag politics and the intricacies of far-off developments?
But my wise old boss was right. More right even than I thought at the time. Business is important, the work we do is needed to make society a better place as well as to supply us with the income to support our lives. But if we can’t appreciate beauty or use our brains to think about why we are here – and more intelligently even than ants – we miss so much that can be part of our lives. I have watched people flourish and develop who would never have done so if they had not been faced with – and answered – the vital questions that make us human beings. A good mentor will pose those as a preliminary to being an effective support.
Someone asked me the other day “Where can I find the soul of Singapore?” We were sitting in a restaurant at the time so I pointed to all the other people eating there and said “The soul of anywhere is the people who inhabit it.” Each person is a part of the soul of where we are. To understand it, all we need to do is to empathise with them and discover how to care for them.
A rounded life may seem a long way from digitisation, fearsome games, webinar lessons and KPIs. It both shouldn’t be, and isn’t. A good boss teaches you lessons and tells you stories that enhance more than merely the business you are engaged in. She or he will see that you are equipped to handle all aspects of life with consistent, decent standards and developing, sound judgment. And they will help to make you perceptive, creative, participative and bold.
For a rounded life is not a buffet but a work-in-progress building.
And that building is the soul.