I had a stroke at work and I’m happy about it. Seriously!

16th April 2019

Now there’s a title you don’t expect to read every day but it’s true, let me explain why.

For the past 20ish years, I’ve been a bit of a workaholic only really taking short periods away from work when waiting to start my next role, to recover from meningitis or to complete my last Master’s degree. For the past four years I only really had any ‘holiday’ so that I could cycle to Paris from London. I rested last year but that was to cycle around Switzerland so rest and recovery been part of my approach since pretty much when I started my career. My wife and family were warning me but I knew better, or so I thought.

I was at work in September of 2017 discussing my program budget when I started to feel a little vacant and I that two fairly simple numbers wouldn’t add up in my brain. I stopped the meeting explaining I was feeling ill and needed to rest. Over the next few days, it got rapidly worse and I found that my speech went, I lost power on my left side and I couldn’t sit up and stay awake.

After a few tests in hospital, it was confirmed that I’d burnt out and had a stroke and that rest and recovery was to be the order of the day. This was going to be hard.

I’m now six months in and my speech is back although the power isn’t yet and I attend the hospital at least once every week. My treatment has in part involved me having to examine what pushed me over the edge was. Quite frankly it was stupid and an endemic sign of the weaknesses in middle-management today where the need for process, ego-inflation, and power overrode the humanity, common sense and content. You see, I’d sat listening as I had many times, about how a managers team-member had let them down because their PowerPoint was the wrong colour or font-size. I corrected the manager and told them to consider what mattered and how they might manage their team better but the damage was done.

Yes, the content was right but the presentation was not to their liking and they HAD to respond to a fire drill that meant that they wouldn’t see their family that night until at least 9 pm. No one bothered to ask if it mattered whether the company would go bust if wrong or if it really had to be done that night to save the world. No one bothered to challenge the need to place work over the family as, after all, it was a manager with a bigger title, who would possibly upset his or her ego and say no?

Now, I don’t want to participate in or accept what I see as the stupid overhead of corporate politics and I will only work for companies that value creativity, thought and a people-first approach to the workplace. I’m not sure that the big companies will fit that bill anymore. The management culture is too broken.

Years ago I lost doing what I loved instead buying into the corporate titles, the meetings, the travel and the status, I’d become over the past 10 years, a bit of an arsehole (sorry for that word, it’s right to use it though) more concerned with mine and others ego’s than what really mattered. People and the right life balance.

So, I’m pleased I had a stroke for two reasons. The first is because I’ve regained the right perspective and I can see what is and isn’t appropriate. I can, when ready, return to work and do what I love and love what I do. The second reason is that I survived, my job literally nearly killed me and when I was at that tipping point. After all, the potential end-state for me was that my family had to bury me and my employers simply had to place a new job advert to replace me. Seriously, think about that for a moment.

I’ve vowed that my family and my career deserve better from me, that I will, no I must, avoid stress and stupidity at all costs if I am to survive and thrive.

For me, I will return to work and I will love what I do, love where work and how I do my job. I don’t care about titles, corporate BS or other people’s egos anymore, that’s other people’s issues. If you don’t either perhaps we should work together and make a real difference and not just pretty PowerPoints.

Why wait, as I did until it’s almost too late? Why not use this and the messages from others to check yourself and see if the job or life is more important. If you’re a manager who cares about and fonts over content, ask yourself, WTF? Does Branson, Sugar or Buffett give a damn about such stupid things? Nope. Did the right font, or photo make them invest when the wrong wouldn’t have, did the font convince them or do they focus on the message and what really matters? Are you being a process manager or a leader? If you want to be a leader, look at what they care about, put those stupid management books down and lead by example, not by theory.

Finally, I would be amiss without the following public service announcement, please share the message. Make sure you know how to spot the signs of a stroke.