In his 60th year Martin Barrow reflectively takes us on his journey from self-confessed workaholic to wellbeing journalist and shares what he has learned with the benefit of that wonderful thing called hindsight...!
In my 60th year, I count my blessings. I am a husband, father and grandfather. Our large rumbustious family is fit and well. In my professional life I have stayed busy through the pandemic. I have been a writer and journalist for almost 40 years. These days I mostly write about health and care. This includes many articles about work and mental health, stressing the importance of a healthy work/life balance. If you want to know more about what forward-thinking employers are doing to support their employees, I’m your man.
The work/life treadmill
The irony of this is not lost on me or my family, because for many years I was what you could only describe as a workaholic. I left home at 6am to run a busy newsroom and returned at 10pm. I was often back on the phone at midnight, directing changes to the early edition. After a few hours of fitful sleep, I’d get back on the treadmill of news. And repeat. Looking back, it seems like madness and I don’t know how I coped under such pressure. In truth, there were times when I did not cope well and my family pulled me back from dark places. At The Times of London I worked under four editors. When the fifth editor told me that my services were no longer required, I felt a mixture of sadness and relief. After leaving the newspaper, I went down a couple of professional cul-de-sacs before taking the plunge to work for myself. Today I have never been more at ease with my work and with the world around me.
Wellbeing advice for my younger self
Yet each time I write about mental health at work or the ideal work/life balance, one question troubles me: what advice would I give to my young self? In my 20s and even my 30s, I felt that I needed to compensate for a modest amount of talent and lack of a formal education by working twice as hard as everyone else. I had to be the first one in and the last to leave, and never said no to extra shifts. In the event, I had the chance to meet people and visit places that were definitely not on my agenda as an 18-year-old wannabe journo. It also paid the bills and provided a standard of living and financial security beyond my wildest dreams when I penned my first few lines for newspapers like the Hayling Islander and the Lima Times.
Finding a balance
The experience I gained and the contacts I made have sustained my working life in later age. Financially, I am well-placed to manage the ebb and flow of self-employment. I still work hard but I chose what I do and I can take my foot off the gas to make time for myself. I am able to spend more time with our grandchildren and our foster children than I ever did with our daughters. I enjoy long country walks with my wife, something we were never able to do back in the day when deadlines were constant and the phone never stopped ringing. There are times when I worry that it may all be taken away, and I recognise the familiar anxieties of my young self. But these periods don’t endure because my safety net, both economic and emotional, is in place.
The only certainty is change
So, will I advise my younger self to ease up and cut down those hours? Probably not. Employers can and should do more to foster a culture of wellbeing at work. Young people embarking on their careers must be supported to find that elusive balance between work and home that we all crave. But ‘balance’ will mean different things to different people, and it will evolve over time. Put in the hours that you feel you need to meet your goals. But never lose sight of the fact that your job may feel all-encompassing now but there will be a time when it, and you, have moved on, possibly sooner than you expect. So, try to find the hinterland that will be there for you when you are ready to try a new and quite different challenge. There’s one thing you can sure of: that time will come.
Martin Barrow is a journalist and writer. He and his wife Lorna have been foster carers for almost 12 years. They live in West Sussex, United Kingdom
Image credit @amandaclarke_illustration