Lessons in life (& business analysis) I learned from my son.

He’s the boss.

This little bundle of cuteness is my son, lovingly nicknamed Lord Nelson (for reasons that become immediately apparent after spending 5 minutes with him) and since he arrived, he’s brought chaos and joy in abundance to our family. Of course, we wouldn’t trade that chaos for anything in the world, even though he’s directly responsible for the noticeable increase in the number of grey hairs I’m now sporting. I like to think that I can model the salt & pepper look as well as Idris Elba, although I’ve been assured by Mrs N on several occasions that this line of thinking could at best be described as aspirational.

Harsh, but such is life.

Becoming a dad is, and has been, a steep learning curve, and the cliche that parenting doesn’t come with a manual is very, very true. You find yourself constantly learning and having to pick things up on the fly in order to make sure that you meet all of the needs of the little one who is completely dependent on you for his or her survival. No pressure, right?

I’ve learned that he is like a sponge and observes and absorbs a lot of the lessons that we directly (and often inadvertently) teach him, so we have to be careful about the example that we set in our words and actions. (True story: my cousin, who was 2 years old and cute as a button at the time, once loudly and publicly dropped a – quite mild, in all honesty – profanity at the dinner table in front of the entire family over Christmas lunch one year, after accidentally knocking her cutlery on the floor. Being as the two particular words made up around 10% of her entire vocabulary at the time, we were all both shocked and amused by her timing and context for use. My uncle said gruffly in response at the time – and I quote – “Well, she didn’t learn that from me.”)

Moreover, I’ve found that he’s also taught me a number of lessons, and continues to do so each day. Some of these lessons are applicable to my career as business analyst as well, and I thought I’d share these learnings with you here.

1. There’s great power in saying No: One thing we’ve learned is that he is very much a young person who knows his own mind, knows what he wants, and also what he doesn’t. If he’s not happy with something or doesn’t feel comfortable doing it, he’ll be very direct in telling us “No” – which can be a minor problem when we’re trying to get him to eat his dinner instead of play with his toys, but also handy when he’s not feeling well and doesn’t want to run about to the shops or something else that might not be in his best interests at the time. As business analysts, we can sometimes feel that we have to say or do things that aren’t always in the best interests of our project, our client, or ourselves – like taking on that extra piece of work or agreeing to deadlines that we know we can’t manage. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if we started saying “No” and being honest with ourselves and others a little more often?

2. Learn to pick your battles: Young Lord Nelson (for he is the boss) is smart. Very smart, actually. He’s learned that crying often has less of an impact with his mum and I, rather than using it sporadically in order to get the thing that he really wants. More often than not, he’s learned to forgo getting upset in order to get his way over minor things, while saving the heavy artillery tantrums if he is adamant that he is/isn’t going to do something or make a demand from his parents. As BAs, we should also be more strategic in picking our hill to die on, rather than kicking off over everything and then finding that we get very little (or nothing) in return.

3. Find joy in the simple things: My son doesn’t actually ask for much. Food, water, warmth, cuddles and a clean, dry nappy are pretty much the extent of his demands. He has lots of toys, but often is more content playing with an empty cardboard box (why is that?). He’s learned (and taught us) that as long as you have the essentials, everything else doesn’t really matter. I often think that we would be much more content in life, and much happier by extension, if we followed that example too.

4. A smile will take you a long way: This one goes without saying. Scowling and snarling your way through life will only get you so far. Smiling, and generally being pleasant to be around, will help you win friends, influence people (great book, by the way), and have people willing to help you when you can’t get things sorted on your own. Smile more; you and everyone else will feel much happier for it.

5. Family is the most important thing: Far too often, BAs can get overly wrapped up in the day to day activity of project delivery and analysis. We throw ourselves into our work, we strain and stress over every event that happens during our time in the office, we worry about producing documents and meeting deadlines, we get angry and upset over office politics. We build our lives around our work, while forgetting and forgoing actually having a life outside of it. Allow me to make something plain and clear to you – your worth as a person is not derived from your job, your title or the company you work for. All of these things are transient and temporary, and you will eventually have to let them go; either at retirement or through redundancy/termination of your employment. You will one day cease to be a business analyst (or whatever your chosen vocation may be). You will not, however, cease to be a son or daughter, a sibling or a parent, or a friend to others. If you are sick, your company or organisation will likely continue to function smoothly in your absence. Your family, on the other hand, might not. I’ve learned the hard way that work is a poor comforter when things go wrong in life (and may often be the cause of things going sideways in the first place), and family and loved ones are far more valuable to us than our careers. There isn’t a day rate or salary high enough that I would swap for seeing my son’s smile or having him reach out to me for a cuddle. Having a successful BA career is good; having the love and support of family and friends is immeasurably great in comparison.

6. Rest, and rest well: Lord Nelson loves his sleep, although he also loves getting up in the middle of the night and disturbing his parents from theirs. We’ve noticed that when he doesn’t get enough sleep, he becomes very irritable and extremely unhappy – tears and tantrums abound, and everybody is miserable as a result. Once he gets his rest, he is a different person and life is considerably better for all concerned. As business analysts, we can often pour all our efforts into work, putting in long hours – often with lengthy commutes on top) – and working weekends. I don’t know about you, but at 43 years old (yes, I know I don’t look it!), I don’t have the capacity or the desire to subsist on 5 or less hours of sleep a night, travel for 2 hours each way and put in 10+ hours a day at the office anymore. It isn’t healthy and I would argue that it actually blunts your effectiveness (just how much coffee is too much coffee?), while putting you at risk of illness and burn out. You need to get your rest, and make sure you’re also taking your holidays (well what else are you going to do with the stacks of cash BAs allegedly earn?) in order to be at your best for you, and for your clients. Catch flights, not a cold.

7. If what you’re doing doesn’t stimulate you, do something else: Our little one has a very short attention span, and can be interested in a book one minute, and then running off to watch PJ Masks the next. We have to work hard to keep him interested, else we run the risk of finding him sating his boredom by doing something he shouldn’t be – like harassing our two pugs, or attempting to stick his fingers or other objects into plug sockets (which we now have learned to keep covered when they’re not in use). Although as grown adults, we have much better powers of retention and focus, we still can become bored and demotivated if the work we’re doing isn’t quite hitting the mark. A friend of mine once told me, “Tasks without joy are drudgery, and are rarely done well.” If you want to be your best, you need to keep your focus. If what you’re doing isn’t something that you can focus on, then find the project, contract or employer that you can.

8. Mitigate risk where you can, manage risk when you have to: I’ve mentioned several times that our son can have a predisposition to put himself in jeopardy if we aren’t keeping a close eye on him. I’ve learned that this is a major part of parenting, and also can be a significantly stressful activity. We do our best to mitigate risk (stair gates, socket covers, and corner protectors for tables and shelves, etc.) but we can’t eliminate it completely. There will be times when things do go wrong, and all we can do as parents is minimise the impact as best as we can. Business analysis is much the same; we conduct our impact assessments and identify and track risks to our project / programme / delivery as best as we can. However, we should be prepared for when things go askew, and working with your Project Manager and governance function to mitigate the impact is a part of your duty of care that you should make every effort not to neglect. Forearmed is forewarned, as they say.

I’m sure there are plenty of other lessons that I’ve learned and will continue to learn from our son, but I’m absolutely shattered because he’s woken me up yet again at 4am because reasons.

When I’m less sleep deprived, I’ll share some more, but for now, I need coffee.

– André

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