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No Quality Of Life, No Work Life Balance, How My Job Nearly Killed Me

It’s 3.30 am and my concept of the quality of life I enjoy is about to be grabbed by the throat and shaken to its core.

I’m sitting in a hospital bed panicking. I can’t breathe, I’m nauseous, I’m hot & sweaty and cold all at the same time. I feel like I’m about to pass out but I’m super attentive at the same time.

I am hitting the “call” button for the nurse like there is no tomorrow.

Somethings wrong. I’m scared. I can’t explain how I’m feeling. I just know it’s not right. Something is seriously wrong.

All of a sudden I’m on my back on a bed moving through the hospital. The lights are incredibly bright. There are lots of people around me. All talking or maybe yelling. I’m not sure.

Someone is cutting my clothes off. My favourite shorts were cut off and ruined. Why is this an issue with everything that’s going on? I don’t know but it is.

There are multiple people doing things to me. Someone is cutting and stitching something in my neck. It doesn’t hurt but I can hear and feel the cutting and then then stitching.

Things are getting put into veins everywhere. The lights are bright, so bright.

A face appears right in front of mine. Close, very close to mine. Just centimetres away.

drs looking at patient

“Relax. We are looking after you. Everything will be fine” I don’t know why but this stranger gives me an incredible sense of calmness and peace.

Then I slide into an induced coma for the next 3 days.

No Quality Of Life, No Work Life Balance, How My Job Nearly Killed Me

I have been working for 42 years. Left school at 15 with no qualifications of any type. What I did have was an unmatched work ethic and a desire to be successful.

I actually didn’t know what success would look like, feel like, taste like. I just knew that I was going to be successful.

From day one I was determined to be the hardest worker no matter what low level crap job I was doing. I would clear twice as much rubbish or move twice as many bricks as the next guy. I would just strive to always be the best.

42 years later I woke up in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Royal Brisbane Hospital. I’m intubated, breathing on a ventilator because I went into heart failure and without the immediate attention and intervention from the amazing doctors, I wouldn’t be here to tell my tale of warning.

As I wake from the induced coma and then get the breathing tube removed over the next 24 hours, my period of reflection begins. It’s difficult at first because I am very fuzzy and slow to process information.

To be honest, sitting here writing 3 weeks later and it is still difficult. My brain is not as sharp as it was. I can’t process thoughts and conversations instantly. It takes effort. Apparently, this is normal or perhaps my new normal. Sorry, I digressed. Back to the main story.

Fact 1 – Work Life Balance Exists Is A Lie

Sorry. I don’t want to burst the bubble of every new woke business trying to tick off all the boxes to be an employer of choice but work life balance is a lie, a complete fallacy, a unicorn.

The culture in workplaces is changing. Lots of people will say it’s for the better. No more nasty dictators demanding things be done a certain way, by a certain date with a certain outcome.

Now we have to have multiple meetings. Make sure everyone is on board with the direction, and the vision of the company. Everyone’s thoughts and opinions must be heard so they feel validated and then, only then can we tentatively say this is where we are going, how we are going to get there when we would like to be there and how we will all be judged to have a successful outcome or not. Is everyone on board with this new direction? Great, let’s move on.

Bullshit. Complete bullshit. A massive waste of time. Going through the motions of letting people think they have some input, some ownership when they don’t. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

The Managing Director, the Board Of Directors, The various department heads and senior managers really don’t care what the new guy Jeremy thinks about a strategic change in the company’s marketing focus into a new area.

What the business has done is take a process that should have only been a handful of manhours and turned it into something that took 50 or 100 or maybe more manhours to achieve half the outcome.

Business Management in 2023 is absolute madness.

Work Life Balance Doesn't Exist 😱🕒 Here's Why. My 9 to 5 Job Almost Killed Me Because I Let It

Fact 2 – Workplace Stress Is More Prevalent Than Ever Before

Rolling straight out of Fact 1 and into Fact 2, I don’t believe that the amount of workplace stress has ever been as high as it is now.

Some reasons are real, some are harboured and controlled by the media and some happen right in front of your face.

Wikipedia has a great entry on occupational stress you can read here.

One of the main reasons workplace stress levels are going up so rapidly is the expectation of people being able to cope with all sorts of differing roles with vastly different targets and requirements changing rapidly.

Business today seems to be in a non-stop cycle of restructuring. Everything from organisational structures to individual roles and responsibilities through to complete departmental reworkings. At times, it feels like the only constant in the workplace is the actual process of change.

This single factor is a massive contributor to the creation and growth of stress in the workplace.

Other Major Causes Of Workplace Stress Include

  1. Workload (work/life balance)
  2. Long working hours (work/life balance)
  3. Workplace Status
  4. Bullying/sexual harassment
  5. Narcissism and psychopathy

Fact 3 – As An Employee, You Are Not Valued

Let me sit here, laughing hysterically, peeing myself while preparing to shatter some illusions.

I’m sorry but your employer doesn’t really give a shit about you.

You are an employee, a number, a bum on a seat paid to do a job. That’s it, that’s all.

You are not indispensable. Your employer will have the empty seat created by your departure filled either before you start your next role or before they put you in the ground.

You owe your employer 0%. Nothing, nil, nada.

As an example. When I first started getting sick, I sent an email on Monday morning at 7.30 am telling my boss that I was off for the week with some sort of bug.

By 9.10 am, 1 hour and 4o minutes later, I had received an email notifying me who would be filling in for me.

1 hour and 40 minutes to completely restructure the senior leadership team and put it all back together.

You are not irreplaceable. You are just a number on a spreadsheet. A bum on a seat paid to do a job. And that’s OK as long as keep things in perspective.

Fact 4 – Your Quality Of Life As An Employee Stinks

I look at this one from a slightly different angle to others.

A lot of people, myself included, are happy to spend the majority of their lives working as an employee. Go to work, do your job, get paid weekly, fortnightly and then do it all over again.

Most of us will simply continue to do this until we either retire or die and accept that this is our life and how it’s meant to be.

Having survived a near-death experience and now re-examining all aspects of my life, I realise that most things about being an employee actually suck.

What time I start and finish work each day – controlled by others. What time I can have a break for lunch or a short walk or some fresh air – controlled by others. When I can go away for holidays and for how long – controlled by others.

How much money I earn each week? Controlled by others who determine my value per hour.

Living as an employee is akin to living as a modern day slave.

Being an employee means having very little to no control over most aspects of your life. You are trading time for money and with this trade comes the sad, harsh, cold acceptance that you are now just another cog in a giant wheel doing what is expected of you.

Fact 5 – Your Success At Work Is Different To Your Success As A Person

So many people lose track of what is really important in life and get confused with “I am successful in my career, therefore I am successful in life”

This is a lie we tell ourselves to remove the pain and the shame of knowing, even at a subconscious level that we are lying to ourselves. Career success and success as a person, a partner, a parent, a friend, or a sibling are different and can not be compared in any way.

Ian Knabel in ward at RBWH after ICU
Back in the general ward 2 days after being released from ICU

Success in your career often involves making a lot of sacrifices and putting the requirements and expectations of your career in front of your personal responsibilities. These decisions will often be at odds with what you should be doing outside of work.

A meeting to close out a new customer project or your son’s first football match. We all know what happens 99.9% of the time here. Only one chance to close this deal but there will be other football games and he’ll understand anyway.

I can not count how many times I have made this justification to myself over 35 plus years. It’s only now, reflecting over the last few weeks since nearly dying, that I have realised what a complete arsehole I have been to everyone around me for all these years.

To all of you I have ignored shunned or wronged in any way, I am sorry. I know I can’t go back in time and change things but believe me when I say I wound. I now understand that true success as a person has nothing to do with my job, or my career but is all about the people in my life who matter.  The people whom I should be interacting with and whose lives we should be enriching.

The internet is full of stories of people who are considered to have been mega-successful in life, but end of life interviews tell a very different story.

One of the most famous is the interview given by Steve Jobs, Apple Founder and visionary just prior to his death from pancreatic cancer.

You can read the whole excerpt here. It will only take a few minutes and is incredibly profound. Read Here.

There is no end to the number of articles and lists of people of various degrees of success realising that the money just doesn’t matter.

The key to happiness, to true success, is not that difficult but does take time, effort, consistency and true commitment to make it happen. Have you not heard that joke about someone working their butt off for 4 years to become an overnight sensation?

  1. Warren Buffett: The billionaire investor Warren Buffett is often cited for his emphasis on family and happiness. He has said, “The most important investment you can make is in yourself,” and has stressed the importance of building meaningful relationships and finding happiness in life.
  2. Oprah Winfrey: Media mogul Oprah Winfrey has spoken about the importance of authenticity, self-care, and maintaining healthy relationships. She believes that true success comes from living a life aligned with one’s values and finding joy in the journey.
  3. Dalai Lama: The spiritual leader, Dalai Lama, has consistently advocated for inner peace, compassion, and meaningful human connections as essential aspects of a fulfilling life. He often speaks about the importance of happiness and love over material wealth.
  4. Arianna Huffington: Co-founder of The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington, has become an advocate for work-life balance and the importance of well-being. She believes that success should be redefined to include not just money and power but also personal fulfilment and happiness.
  5. Richard Branson: British entrepreneur Richard Branson, known for his Virgin Group, has often emphasized the value of having a balanced life. He believes that one should enjoy the journey and prioritize relationships with family and friends.
  6. Will Smith: Actor and musician Will Smith has spoken about the importance of maintaining strong family bonds and finding happiness within oneself. He has discussed how success without happiness and personal connections can lead to emptiness.
  7. J.K. Rowling: The author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, has gone through difficult times in her life and has emphasized the importance of resilience, mental health, and personal relationships. She’s spoken openly about her struggles and how they’ve shaped her perspective on success and happiness.

Attaching your sense of worth, and your feeling of accomplishment purely to the level of success you achieve in your career is some of the most flawed thinking that has ever existed.

Nothing will ever be more important than your internal happiness and the relationships you build, foster, encourage and value with the people around you whose opinions really do matter.

In summary, don’t be a dick! Never forget the people that really matter in your life and always, always find time to include them in your regular activities.

Fact 6 – How My 9 to 5 Job Nearly Killed Me

I believe 110% that my full time job was a major contributing factor in the events that led up to my near death on that Sunday morning. I’ll explain why.

As I have discussed elsewhere, from a young age I was driven to be “successful” and earn the big bucks. I was going to do this by working harder than anyone else ever did.

Naive, yes. But it was my plan. I watched my Dad work his adult life in a factory job he hated and I wasn’t going to fall into that trap.

I worked 2, 3 even 4 jobs at times to earn more money. I never said no to any opportunity to either earn money or get a promotion in some way.

Just keep grinding and eventually, I’ll be successful.

80 hours per week, 100 hours per week, 110 hours per week. I did it all. No time off, no rest, not enough sleep. It doesn’t matter, I’m young. Work hard now and reap the rewards later. Seemed like a solid plan. Unfortunately, reaping the rewards and slowing down just never happened.

Add to this that I have been smoking 25 per day, every day since I was around 15.

Even now at 57, I am still leaving home at 6 am and not getting home until around 7 pm most days. I am a tendering manager for a company in the construction space meaning I have no control over my day to day workload.

Potential clients issue tenders and state that all pricing has to be submitted by 4 pm Thursday 25th or it won’t be considered. No control or ability for me to manage these external stressors.

Back in the old days, there were 3 of us who would look at the tendered prices and decide if we had it right and then submit.

Now we are all woke and shit and everyone has to be involved and have their say and buy into the construction before we even tender, everything takes so much longer now.

This review process alone, depending on the complexity and size of the job may take at least 6 hours of my time for just one tender.

This work and the associated stress feed my high blood pressure, my anxiety, my crappy diet because I am too busy to eat well, my weight because I am too busy to train, and my lung and heart issues because I am addicted to smoking due to the stress I operate under day after day.

Too much stress, too little rest, multiple bad lifestyle choices and I am an explosion just waiting on a trigger. At 3.30 am that night, the trigger was pulled and I came so close to death I can still feel it.

I’m lucky. I have survived against the odds. I have a second chance and I will take it with both hands and cherish it as anyone should who has been given a second chance.

the sign I needed

Fact 7 – What Changes From Here………

To put it simply, I don’t know.

For the first time in my life, I am listening to the various Doctors and doing exactly what I’m told. I don’t know how long before I can go back to work if in fact I ever can or will. Pauline and I are spending hours talking through our options. This is the first time we have really done this at such a deep level and it is incredibly rewarding.

We are 57 and 58 years old. We have been planning to retire early at 62 and 63 but the events of the last 6 weeks may change all that. Time will tell.

During this deep self-reflection and desire to understand what I’ve been through and why it has shaken my perception and understanding of myself so deeply, I found this quote from Gary Vee that I want to share. The Most Motivational Statement Ever in 3 Words

So many options in front of us. Some are attractive, some, are not so. But one thing I do know is my life will never be the same. I will never take for granted a sunrise, a hug from a loved one, a 2 minute catchup with a friend or family member or the simple enjoyment of a long deep hug with Pauline and those magic words – I love you.







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