Paul Butler: Work, work, work

Paul Butler

All of us were reminded of the brevity and fragility of life last weekend to hear of the death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant along with eight other passengers in the same helicopter crash. It’s unquestionable that the sport of basketball was immensely important to Kobe, but I am sure in the last few moments he wasn’t thinking about shots and hoops but rather family and friends.

It feels rather trite to transition from the tragic death of a sports star to our working lives and yet I see so many important lessons and correlations. Kobe was a hero to many on and off the court. He had his failings and imperfections like all of us, but in the final analysis he was loved and admired by many, for not only how he played but also how he lived.

How about you? How about me? Our work is important — we each want to do work that is meaningful and that makes a difference in this world. We want to know that what we do or did mattered, but when it’s all said and done, wouldn’t you agree that we go to work to earn money to do the things we really want to do with the people we really want to be doing them with?

Kobe had a wife and four daughters — one of whom perished in the accident, too. I am sure when he came home from his work, they looked at him as a husband and a father, first and foremost.

I remember a time when I was so full of my own self-importance as an employee. My work became my identity. I was a regional finance director for Hilton hotels in Europe and had a home office. I remember one particularly busy period around the annual budgeting process and our son, Henry (then perhaps 6 years of age), had asked if I could play with him before he went to bed. I kept promising and pacifying him with, “Just a few more minutes” and “Just let me get this done.” About two hours passed and when I came out of my home office about 10 p.m., I saw Henry asleep on the floor just outside my door with his favorite boxed soccer game balanced on his pajama chest.

I distinctly remember making a decision at that point that my work would never consume me. That I would never allow work to spin me around so fast that I’d lose sight of what was right in front of me and truly important. I don’t remember that budget season but I do remember Henry’s slumber while waiting to play table soccer with his Dad.

One of my friends, Tom, works for a major employer — a quasi-government entity that provides utilities to millions in Los Angeles County. Tom is about to retire after decades of faithful service. Tom is a hard worker. He rises early and starts work early. Tom is tremendously diligent in his work and completes his tasks to a five-star standard when many of his colleagues think that three stars is sufficient. His desk is orderly and uncluttered so that he can be present and provide excellent service to his internal and external customers.

Even though Tom works hard, I know that he loves his wife, Peggy, very much indeed — he prioritizes time with her and they love to be together. Likewise, when his son Trevor was younger, I never saw Tom miss a Little League baseball game — I know this, as Henry and Trevor played on the same team.

Los Angeles just lost Kobe, but a family lost their husband and their dad. Let’s be sure in this new year and beyond that our families and friends don’t lose us to our work.

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