Lessons in life (& Business Analysis) from my daughter

Yep, that’s right, folks – I did it again (admittedly, with a lot of help from Mrs N). It’s my pleasure to introduce you all to Lady Nelson, who in every way is tiny but perfect. I’m amazed and bewildered by it all, but just like her brother, she makes life a whirlwind of chaos and joy – more the latter than the former, fortunately. Being parents to one child is a steep learning curve but learning how to love, care for and support two very small children is something else. For all the tiredness, stress and the seemingly endless stream of formula bottles and dirty nappies, I’m deliriously happy – although that might be due in small part to the sleep deprivation – and I am learning and growing every day.

Here’s some things I relearned (and some new things I was taught too).

1. Tiredness can affect your physical AND mental health more than you realise. I’ve learned the hard way that the soul-crushing lack of sleep that comes with having a new baby affects me in many unanticipated, and often adverse, ways. For example, I had no idea that extreme tiredness can cause me to suffer from writer’s block – which is one of the reasons that articles have been few and far between recently.

I took some time off from work to help out at home with looking after our children, but it feels like there’s very little time to focus on anything that isn’t child or work-related beyond the bare basics at the moment.

I can’t fake this one, people; my life is very much out of balance and it sometimes feels like it takes a monumental effort just to cope.

How do other people make it look so effortless?

Am I doing this whole parenting and life thing wrong?

I’ve found my previous mantra of maintaining balance and wellness has virtually gone out of the window, and I feel like I’m very much in survival mode right now. That’s why I have to be honest with myself and my family, and make sure that I take every possible action I can to keep myself well.

They may be little things – be it taking walks away from my desk to get fresh air, making conscious decisions not to order that pizza instead of eating a healthy and nutritious meal, getting as much sleep as our children will allow and practicing mindfulness each day – but every action helps, no matter how seemingly trivial they may be. The latter action has benefitted me immensely and I don’t feel a constant sense of panic each day. I know that things will improve soon and we’ll be able to get some sense of normality back into our routine as a family. Until then, we have to make every effort to be well physically, mentally and emotionally for each other.

2. There is much joy (and a little pain) in producing something you love. True story – Lady Nelson was not only an early arrival, but arrived so unexpectedly that we didn’t even make it to the hospital. Thank the Lord for ScotchGuard.

In retrospect, I should have guessed that Mrs N was in labour by the steady stream of profanities that increased in intensity in direct correlation to her ever-quickening contractions. Thankfully, it was a relatively short labour and our daughter arrived first thing in the morning after eight hours of intense pain.

Such was the haste that the paramedics arrived, that they blocked off our narrow cul-de-sac and caused a traffic queue on our road for our neighbours who were trying to set off for work (a special shout out goes to the person who was a little too “enthusiastic” in asking the paramedics to move their ambulance so he could get to work).

My wife tells me that on the pain scale, giving birth is one the most intense pain experiences humans can go through, and as she’s a nurse, I have no reason to doubt her. That’s why I was so amazed that as soon as our daughter arrived, Mrs N was euphorically happy and looked like she’d just been taking it easy for the last eight hours (although that may have been the gas and air she was gulping down).

She says that her children are her greatest accomplishment – happy I could help! – in spite of how much she had to suffer to bring them into the world. It got me thinking that this is just one of those life things – if there’s something that you value and love, there will be a degree of pain and suffering to acquire or produce it.

It might be a family or relationship, a career (especially as a business analyst!) or a work of art; if it means something special, there is always going to be effort and desire in order to attain it.

3. You should accept that you need some help from others to succeed. I was recently unfortunate enough to have someone very close to me choose to provide me with some extremely unconstructive criticism in a really toxic and unhelpful way. For the sake of my own sense of peace, I don’t need to dredge up the contents of the conversation. However, this person did say something that in retrospect, I thought was worth unpacking:

“André, you’re always trying to go it alone. You’re a real Lone Ranger. One day, you’re going to come unstuck because you don’t want people to help.”

And if I’m honest, that’s actually true.

I am always trying to deal with things on my own, not because I think I can do it better, but often because I want to help other people. I have a habit of thinking that asking people to take things on for me is burdening them, so with the best of intentions, I deal with it myself and bottle up when I feel pressure because I don’t want to drag anyone down.

Yes, I realise that this is self-harming and that if I were talking to someone else about this scenario (yes, that means you) I would tell them that it is a fallacy that they should quickly disabuse themselves of for the good of their own physical and mental health.

What’s that proverb again? “Physician, heal thyself!”

While there are single parents out there who do an amazing job everyday in the face of challenging circumstances, I personally have learned that trying to manage two very small children by myself is virtually impossible. Not least because I also have a full time job which means that for much of the day I physically couldn’t look after them on my own, and they would very quickly come to harm. I’m reliant on my wife and our family for so much – from shopping and cooking, to supporting our elderly family members who need care, to ensuring that our children have all of their immunisations, to making sure that they have clothing appropriate for the time of year, to bath times and bedtimes. Our ability to get through each day with any degree of success is dependent on our ability to work together and support one another in balancing the ridiculous amount of responsibilities commitments in our family life.

I’ve learned that this is a weakness of mine which bleeds into both the private and professional aspects of my life. I’m honest enough to admit that I do sometimes take on too much at work, and then feel embarrassed to ask for help or delegate. As a seasoned business analyst who often has leadership responsibilities in my role, I have to be able to overcome that – especially as to think that I can do everything well all by myself is the height of hubris and arrogance, and setting myself up for hardship later on.

We need to be able to learn to ask for help, and not feel any guilt or shame in doing so. This is as much for our own sake as well as those around us.

Besides, who really wants to keep the duties of changing a full nappy all to themselves?

4. Not every problem or project uses the same approach. Lord & Lady Nelson are both very different characters – you can see their personalities even though they are both young. For example, my daughter loves cuddles with her mum and dad, whereas my son can’t sit still long enough to allow for us to get hold of him in the first place – there are too many toys to play with to waste time on that!

Actually, that not entirely true; he loves to give his sister hugs, which she absolutely has no time for and gets highly irritated by. I actually think that her brother knows this and does it all the more just to annoy her. I think my wife and I are going to have our hands full.

Already, we have learned that they have differing habits and their own likes and dislikes; applying a “one size fits all” approach to parenting them both is not particularly successful. Take bedtimes, for example. Lady Nelson requires little more than a warm bottle of formula, her favourite blanket and a cuddle from mummy to drift off to sleep. My son, however, causes much stress and frustration at night as he needs to have a bottle of warm milk, at least two books read to him, possibly a lullaby being sung, lots of cuddles from his dad (he refuses to have his mum do it), his favourite stuffed toys in bed with him and the bedroom door open before we’ve got any chance of getting him to sleep.

Disregarding the sheer ridiculousness of his night time routine, it just goes to show that what works in one situation is not guaranteed to be successful in another. This is a valuable life lesson that is equally applicable in the realm of business analysis.

You may find that gathering copious detailed requirements works extremely well for specific business functions or customers, but goes down like a lead balloon in a DevOps environment where change is rapid, iterative and flexible (or Agile, if you will!). Likewise, having daily 15 minute stand up meetings probably works better for a Sprint team than on a steering committee with very senior / C-level stakeholders.

My point is this, life will be difficult if you aren’t flexible enough to adapt your approach to a given situation – whether that’s delivering a complex, large-scale project or working out how to get your children to sleep.

5. It’s all worth it in the end. I’ve spent a fairly large proportion of this article talking about how challenging the changes to our family life have been, and I can’t lie – it’s been tough.

However, what probably hasn’t come across is just how rewarding those changes have been. For every night of broken (or no) sleep, seeing my son smile, laugh and play gives me sense of joy that is irreplaceable.

Holding my daughter or watching her fall asleep, knowing that she is completely trusting in my wife and I to take care of her is an awesome responsibility, but one that gives me a sense of purpose and pride that I’ve never been able to find in buying things or focusing on my career, or any of the other things that quickly become trivial through the lens of knowing something so valuable and important.

I’d like to think that I’ve had a pretty successful career as a business analyst, but I would happily give it up in a heartbeat for my family. I know that there will be difficult days ahead, but seeing the potential for greatness in my children and knowing the love that I have for them makes it all worthwhile.

If there’s anything in life that you’re passionate about and you’ve committed time, effort and resources towards, keep going. Even though it seems difficult and that there are times where it seems like you just aren’t getting anywhere, don’t give up.

Trust me – if it matters, it will all be worth it in the end.

6. You are important too. In all the hustle and haste of parenting and family life or career, it’s important to ensure that you don’t lose sight of yourself. It’s easily done, and you find that you focus you time and energy on everything but yourself.

This is a surefire way to burn yourself out.

I’ve previously written about the need to look after yourself, and I feel that it’s a message that consistently needs to be heard.

Take breaks. Go for walks. Spend time doing the things you love. Exercise. Meditate. Laugh. Hang out with good friends. Read. Pray.

Life is short, and no matter how worthy your commitments may be, there is no gain to be had in driving yourself to sickness or worse because of them.

Take some time for yourself to reset and refocus, and maintain your balance across the different facets in life.

Bonus round:

No matter how prepared you think you are, you’re not. In anticipation of the birth of our first child, my wife and I must have purchased every contraption, gadget and goober for babies that was available. After he was born, we used maybe 10% of the stuff we’d bought, with the rest quickly being relegated to taking up space in our loft, being given away to friends or being sold on eBay.

You’d have thought we would have learned our lesson this time around but sadly, nope. We had the best of intentions:

“We have this baby changing station from last time that we only used twice because of how big and inconvenient it is! We’re definitely going to use it for our daughter!”

“I saw this steriliser gadget in the shop, it’s a bargain at £125 and we absolutely HAVE to have it!”

I think you see where this is going.

We were so very certain that we had prepared everything we would need to make this new arrival the smoothest and most efficient ever.

And we were sure that we would have everything under control.

Until we didn’t.

The truth is, there are just some circumstances, some events that you can never be fully prepared for. And that’s okay. You don’t need to feel like you failed, or that you’re a terrible person if things don’t go the way you’d meticulously planned. Because I can guarantee you that in the home, in the workplace, on the sports field, in your Church or place of worship, in your car, in the shopping mall, at the airport, or wherever – life will have a habit of throwing you a curveball that you’re not expecting, no matter how much you think you’ve prepared for every eventuality.

All you can do is accept that this is the situation, deal with it as best as you can – including asking for help if you need it – and learn the lessons from it.

And you know what? These unexpected turns in life can also be enjoyable, and can sometimes lead you into something greater that you didn’t expect because – and I mean no disrespect to my Project / Programme / PMO Manager friends who may be reading this – sometimes you can plan all of the joy and excitement right out of life.

Take care of yourselves, people.

– André

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