More lessons in life (and Business Analysis) from my Son.

Lord Nelson

“You cannot make people learn. You can only provide the right conditions for learning to happen.” ~ Vince Gowmon

Since I last wrote on this subject, my son has had another birthday (hurrah for cake!), developed an obsession with Toy Story 4 and Bluey (which is brilliant, by the way).

Honestly, this is one of the greatest TV programmes ever.

I’ve gone even greyer, and he’s still partial to getting up in the middle of the night to get into his parents’ bed. By getting into, read: taking over. Seriously, how does someone so tiny take up so much room?

This is not indicative of just how much of my side of the bed he is hogging.

Since his nighttime impersonation of a starfish has essentially annexed my side of the bed yet again (but never ever his mum’s), I figured I’d get up and write down a few more lessons this little one continues to teach me about life, the universe and business analysis. Bear in mind, it’s 4:47am so some of this might not be particularly coherent due to sleep deprivation.

  1. It’s okay to rely on other people: As independent as our son might be, he’s still only two years old and is very much reliant on us to help him everyday. While he can unlock his mum’s phone, find the apps that he wants and order £30 worth of takeaway food online with little effort (true story), there’s a lot he isn’t able to do without help from a responsible adult. For example, he can’t cook for himself, change and launder his own clothes or do many basic things necessary to keep himself alive and healthy without his parents assistance. While I know that’s an extreme example, there are some relatable elements here that I’ve learned from. Chief among those lessons is understanding that business analysts often need to rely on others for help on a day to day basis. While our situations are (hopefully!) not life-threatening, we can, and often do face circumstances which, without support from others, could adversely impact our mental health and wellbeing through stress and anxiety. Often, this can find its root in taking on too much, having to deal with a problem that we don’t have the time, skills or knowledge to handle, or finding difficulty in managing certain relationships – in and out of the workplace. There’s no shame in acknowledging that you don’t have all of the answers or that things are just too much for you to deal with on your own. Rather than trying to carry everything by yourself and internalising how you’re feeling, find someone who can share whatever load you have to deal with and ask them for their help. Trust me, you’ll feel better for it.
  2. Learn to deal with the cause, not just the symptoms: Unfortunately, children are walking incubators for what seems like every germ and bug known to man. Never is this more apparent than when they first start at nursery / kindergarten, and come home seemingly every week with some disgusting disease that’s spread itself amongst the cohort of children. Our son is no different, having come home from his nursery induction day with Hand, Foot & Mouth disease (I did not even know this was a thing). More often than not, we deal with these types of illnesses with lots of cuddles, sleep and children’s paracetamol. Occasionally, his poorly state is indicative of a deeper problem, such as when his cough and high temperature developed into a full blown chest infection which put him in the hospital for two days. It would have been easy to just give him some Calpol and hope for the best, but our vigilance led to us identifying a much more serious problem. Have you ever glossed over something at work which initially appeared as a minor inconvenience only to find that it was a symptom of something much more serious? Failing to “catch the little foxes that spoil the garden” can sometimes lead to much more serious repercussions for ourselves and our clients. Be wary of not dealing with a problem to the fullest – there may be more to the story than you realise.
  3. Not communicating clearly will eventually lead to frustration: Despite his obvious intelligence, our son doesn’t have a gargantuan vocabulary. Maybe it’s laziness but we have to encourage him quite a bit to communicate with words and not simply by pointing and grunting at stuff he wants (I’m hoping that this behaviour isn’t a foreshadowing of his teenage years to come). One of the main reasons for this is that we don’t always understand what he’s asking for unless he’s being clear and specific about it. “Ugh” could mean, “I’m hungry”, “I need a bottle of water”, “Please change the TV channel so I can watch Bluey” (seriously, it’s soooo good), or any other random thing that he’s trying to communicate to us. The language barrier is an annoyance to him and can often be the cause of significant upset (i.e. tantrums) when he can’t express how he’s really feeling. Scale this up to adult life and our careers, and we can see underlying similarities in the frustrations we experience in and out of the workplace. “But you said the work would be completed by Wednesday!”, “This isn’t built to the specifications I set out!”, “Why are these requirements missing critical features?”, “You said you’d be cooking dinner tonight!!” All of this grief and resentment arising from the inability to either clearly say what we mean, mean what we say, and to understand or be understood. If we can learn to communicate clearly and effectively – both verbally and non-verbally – I reckon life will be a lot better for us all. You may not always be on the same page, but at least you’ll be reading from the same book.
  4. Set boundaries we all can agree on: Now that Lord Nelson has officially entered the realm of the Terrible Twos, we have seen a… change in his behaviour. By no means is he a naughty child, but we have noticed that he likes to push his luck in terms of what he thinks he can get away with recently. As an example, he likes to play with his mum’s mobile phone, and either denying him access or taking it away from him will result in almighty tantrums – one of which led to him throwing said phone across the room. We have had to set boundaries in place to let him know what kind of behaviour is okay and what isn’t – phone throwing definitely falls into the latter. It’s important that he knows that aberrant behaviour negatively impacts those around him, and will lead to consequences that he won’t enjoy dealing with. As he grows, his understanding of what’s acceptable and unacceptable, or right and wrong will help him function in social settings and ensure that everyone has a happier time of it. There’s an obvious parallel between this and some of the boundaries we need to set in our work and personal lives. People should know where your boundaries are and understand that there are consequences to breaching those boundaries. Whether it’s being repeatedly being coerced into working late, or having work piled on you by others who don’t want to do it themselves, or – in extreme cases – having to deal with physical, racial or sexual abuse and bullying, people should understand that you have the right not to have their behaviour encroach upon your wellbeing and happiness. It goes without saying that if you’re dealing with any of these situations at the moment, get help or support to deal with it as soon as you can.
  5. Making a mess is okay, as long as you’re learning from it: Children are prone to making a mess by nature; I’ve found that it’s one of the ways they learn. My son has a natural bent towards inquisitiveness, especially when it comes to technology, and he has no fear of trying something new even if he doesn’t quite understand what it is or how it works. This sometimes has an unfortunate effect of seeing things thrown into disarray or getting into a less-than-orderly state. In spite of this, his fearlessness is a brilliant trait and should be encouraged (under guidance!) as it helps him to keep an open mind and learn, while understanding that it’s okay to do something different and get things wrong if you can learn something from it. I think as BAs (and as adults in general) we can all benefit from a willingness to try something new or to do something in a different way. Yes, it might feel uncomfortable – scary, even – but honestly, what’s the worst that can happen? You may end up having an Alexander Fleming sort of moment and radically changing things for the better.
  6. You can learn something from anyone, if you’re willing to pay attention: I think this article is proof enough of that. As a BA, one of my most valuable periods of development came from spending time on contact centres and back office environments, where I not only learned about process and procedure but also about how members of staff interacted with one another, and with customers. It was really important because I began to understand the culture of the organisation I was working at, what mattered to the employees there, what they loved about the job, and what they were afraid of. Having this knowledge made my assignment far easier, and I learned just as much about myself as I did the client organisation, which made delivering some complex – and painful – changes a little bit easier. As a person, I’ve taken the time to learn from many people who might not have held an esteemed position or carried great financial wealth, but had a richness in experience, generosity and love that has proven to be invaluable. Often, these lessons came from the most unlikely places – speaking to cleaners in the office during late evenings, talking with people staying in homeless shelters, chatting with elderly neighbours, playing with my son. The point is, you never know where a valuable lesson in life may come from; don’t allow ignorance or stereotyping to cause you to miss out on something that could help you to grow personally and professionally.
  7. Times of crisis will sharpen your focus: I think it’s fair to say that 2019 has been a chaotic year in many respects. Personally, I’ve experienced illness, loss, disappointment, and pain almost consistently throughout 2019, while my poor wife has seen more than her fair share of hardship and grief – including bereavement – this year. Even our son, who is the sweetest and most loving boy you could ever hope to meet, has suffered illness, injury and trips to the hospital on several occasions this year. I mentioned earlier that his chest infection was serious, and I’m not exaggerating to say that seeing him in obvious physical and emotional distress while being completely incapable of helping him was one of the most heartbreaking and terrifying experiences I’ve ever been through. It was a huge distraction and lead to a bout of tiredness and stress for me that eventually resulted in losing a contract I was in. This had ongoing repercussions which several months later cost us a house we were hoping to buy and caused even more stress and unhappiness for our family. However, it also had the positive effect of helping my wife and I to focus on what really mattered in life – which is our family, our health and our relationship with our children and each other. Times of crisis will come and we all deal with them in different ways. Some will panic and flounder in these kairos moments, others will find an inner resolve to overcome the challenges and succeed in life. I found another job; as a family, we’ll regroup and hopefully move house in the near future. Most importantly, our son’s health has improved significantly and we came out of this stronger and better people for it. Don’t fear crisis, use it as a springboard to be something more than you are right now.
  8. It’s always better to share: Last entry for now! Our son has changed me significantly in many ways, but the most visible one is with food. I love my wife, but she will tell you that I have an unhealthy obsession with my grandma’s home cooking. When it comes to Ma’s fried chicken, chow mein or pepperpot dishes – I DO NOT SHARE EVER. That was at least until my son came along. Can you believe that he had the sheer audacity to point and grunt at my batch of chow mein as if I would share it with him? Well I did share it with him, and I actually felt great about it. We shared that whole plate together, and I even let my wife have a forkful too. Since then, I find great joy in sharing my Ma’s food with my son (I’m still coming around to sharing with Mrs N – it’s an ongoing process of growth) and seeing the huge smile on his face as he tucks into some pepperpot and home-made bread (Ma is also an amazing baker) gives me a sense of happiness that I never expected. Sharing yourself, your time and your resources is one of the most joyous things we can do in life. Too often, we miss out on it because we are insular and, dare I say it, selfish. If we look past ourselves, we can be much happier in doing things for others, and we can grow into better humans as a result. A valuable lesson that as parents, we both want our son to learn.

I guess being a business analyst and a parent have a number of parallels, and I’m continuing to develop, grow and improve at both. Who knows, maybe the next time I write an entry on this subject, it’ll be on the back of an uninterrupted night of sleep. For now though, my son is awake and another episode of Bluey awaits us.

The hero we all needed.

Until next time, people.

– André

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