You’re not your budget
I once attended an event for early-onset mid-life crisis that was a cross between a straightforward self-improvement course and indoctrination into a religious cult. The average attendee was in their mid-thirties, mostly from a professional background, and emotionally scarring to some degree. It was over an extended weekend and for the first couple of days I hated every minute of it until, to my complete surprise, I broke down in tears in the middle of one of the exercises. Many things from that weekend stay with me still. One of these is a memorable phrase the course leader said in response to a question from a man who was the marketing and sales director of the Greek subsidiary of a large blue-chip company. The leader told the man, ‘You’re not your budget’.
Because of the nature of this course/event, I already knew more about the questioner than would be polite in the normal way of things. I knew that he was young to have achieved the position of Director. I knew he was very happily married with a great sex life. He seemed one of the more ‘together’ members of our group, almost to the point of dullness. We were approaching the end of training and there was an open question and answer session with the course leader. This man raised his arm and proceeded to explain a bit about his job. His company incorporated specific sales targets in its annual budget and he was responsible for these. He started to explain in some detail how bad it made him feel when, for most of this current year, sales had fallen below his budget (a word he mentioned a lot). He described how this problem with his budget never left him, and how it had affected his home life. As he spoke, it became apparent that he too carried some emotional scarring: stress. I’m sure also, that his description of feeling like a failure would have resonated with quite a few of us present.
The course leader, an American, simply said at the end of this, ‘You know, you’re not your budget.’ He did expand a little. He explained that just because bad things might happen at your work, it doesn’t mean that you are a bad person. You and your work are two separate things.
I don’t know if this answer helped the chap asking the question, but it certainly helped me. Work occupies such a large part my life that the boundary between my work life and private life is blurred. I don’t have a problem with that. It means that I don’t feel guilty when I have to take care of private business during work hours. I don’t bother monitoring my holidays because I know I never take my full entitlement and anyway I work to get the job done, not to the clock. However, this blurring makes me vulnerable if my work doesn’t go well for whatever reason – lost a tender, missed a deadline, or got over-looked for promotion – of taking the feeling of disappointment to heart. I feel the bad outcome reflects on me as a person. Then I remember, I’m not my budget.