skip to Main Content
+27 (0) 83 627-5584 / +27 (0) 21 785-2878

Wednesday Wisdom – We each Captain our own Ship

It has fascinated me for some time, how so much of the working world measure ‘success’ – and their self-worth – based on the amount of hours they work; how busy, under pressure and or exhausted they are.

The extent of individual ‘busy-ness’ and all that it thereby limits in the other areas of life, seems to have become part of the everyday dialogue; often spoken about in a manner suggestive of an element of pride.

Setting aside the unrelenting and truly excessive demands of certain industries and professional domains – in emergency medicine and health care for instance[1] – it appears that there is a kind of universal ‘race’ to burnout.  And whoever gets there first, wins.

Irrespective of the considerable professional input on how to avoid burnout; retain mental health; keep the ‘work-life balance’ and so on, the theme continues like a run-away train – currently more than ever.

Clearly nobody would actively seek the ultimate outcome of burning out or collapsing under the weight of their workload – and there is a great deal said and circulated about the subject in an attempt to prevent this from happening.

Various professionals have made it their life’s work to focus on the ‘how to’ of recognising the relevant signs, so as to stop the spiral downwards before it gathers too much speed.

Numerous organisations train and teach on the subject.  Many corporations run workshops and wellness days in an attempt to assist their employees.

Yet the trend continues – unabated.

Whilst Covid-19 may have exacerbated the upswing in stress and mental health challenges – understandably for those who find themselves struggling with isolation, and juggling work, home, children, schooling, physical safety and more – in reality, all that the pandemic has done is bring the issue closer to the front of the stove.  It is by no means new.  Neither is the potentially devastating fallout.

But here is the thing …

Gathering information; recognising the risks; being supported by an understanding line manager, colleagues, friends and family; taking time off etc. do not provide a sustainable or long lasting solution if one is merely to return to ‘more of the same’ once sufficient strength has been restored.

Although the ‘system’ in which burnout occurs may be compassionate when necessary, the required change seldom lies within the system itself.

The truth is that there is only one way in which to ensure one’s ability to engage in, enjoy and thrive in balancing work, life and play – and that is by recognising, accepting and taking charge oneself.

We are all the captain of our own ship in-so-far as deciding what and where our boundaries are set.

No other party can ever determine or negotiate the unique balance each individual desires between the different aspects of their life. It is a personal choice that requires a suitably distinctive action plan.

Although it is recognised that there may be numerous potential challenges that individuals might have to face in standing up to the demands made of them in the working world, it is evident that unless each of us decides what the right recipe is, for ourselves, it is improbable that the trend will ever reverse.

Instead of automatically defaulting to the same-old conversations as to how pushed and pressurised one is, rather make a conscious decision to alter the conversation.

Share the actions; ‘ah-ha’ moments; insights; techniques; pioneering efforts; successes and benefits of captaining your own ship – and find the courage to allow yourself, your respective team members and your colleagues to step into this role.

One thing is for sure.  If we don’t each decide on the best course for our life’s journey, somebody else will.  And that somebody could be mapping out a route that is entirely unsuitable, steered in entirely the opposite direction to where we want to be.  At the end of the day – if left unchecked – that is a trajectory which is ultimately unsustainable and destined for disaster.


[1] It is recognised that there are specific industries in which the pressure is immense and does not necessarily ever slow down or stop.  In addition to health care Air Traffic Control is another such domain, hence the need for careful roster management and early retirement age.

Back To Top