“Understand that Work is Only a Small Part of Your Life”

I was in Winnipeg visiting my best friend in December when we met the loveliest couple over brunch. Both being from Vancouver, we took the advice of a friend to visit a property called The Gates on Roblin. Less than 30 minutes out of the city, we three girls found ourselves in a cozy yet massive country home which had been converted into a large restaurant and event space.

Pat and HarvWe arrived in the late afternoon, and stayed for a few hours catching up on every little thing. The third girl in our group smiled at a couple sitting at a table not so far from ours, and complimented the woman’s beauty. The woman responded kindly and explained that they were celebrating her husband’s birthday. Not soon after, we exchanged a laugh, and offered to take a picture of the happy couple.

That’s how we met Pat & Harv.

Pat explained to us that seeing us three girls laughing and enjoying ourselves reminded her of so many memories she experienced in exactly the room we were in, but at different tables. Pat & Harv had celebrated a number of events with friends and family over the years on the estate, and the three of us reminded her of just how precious those times had been for her. She reminded us to continue to enjoy ourselves, and appreciate our time with each other. I was moved beyond words.

I thought it relevant to share this story because – like so many of you, I’m sure – I tend to get swept up in work. I allow myself to focus so much on career strategies that unless I’ve scheduled time to rest, I don’t tend to do so.

Pat & Harv’s genuine kindness moved me from the time we met, and we should all take Pat’s words to heart:

“understand that work is only a small part of your life. There will always be another job, but not always an opportunity for good health and a happy family life.”

Being kind and genuine people, you’ll understand why I felt moved to stay connected with Pat and Harv, and asked them to answer some questions that I’ll share (these responses have not been shortened, allowing you to hear their voices directly rather than mine):

1. Can you tell me a bit about your careers? Where has your working life lead you?

Both Harv & I worked in a variety of areas to gain the money for post-secondary education and gain much coveted “work” experience. Harv started work in his father’s grocery store at about 14 and stayed for several years. Then he moved on to be an evening custodian and elevator operator at Eatons, a ladies shoe salesman at Eatons and Sears, and a labourer in a variety of manufacturing industries.

After obtaining his BA he set out to Montreal to find fame and fortune as an office clerk/management trainee. This soured quickly because although he could speak some French he was not fully bilingual, nor was the position an actual springboard for management level.

He soon returned to Winnipeg and worked as an accounting clerk while taking CA courses in the evening. However, accounting was not his forte. Undaunted, he returned to university to complete the first post-degree social work program offered at the University of Manitoba. This was definitely more in line with his interest and abilities.

Upon graduation he accepted an all-encompassing position as an intake/welfare/family services social worker in Northern Saskatchewan for a year to gain the necessary practical experience and then obtained a full time permanent position with Children’s Aid in Winnipeg. He worked for them for almost 38 years, transitioning into a provincial Child Protection case manager with the Province of Manitoba. He retired at 63, after almost 39 years in his field.

After 2 years of “retirement”, Harv now works part time as a retail associate in menswear, still using his assessment and people skills, although in a very different setting. He regularly journals his sales experiences and dreams about someday publishing his experiences under the title “Memoirs of a Menswear Sales Associate: From Social Services to Mens Suits”.

Pat worked part time in sales, and in offices to gain the finances in which to further her education. A BA was the springboard to continuing education, including a BScHEc from the University of Alberta which brought her first professional designation. After graduating as a Home Economist she worked in retail as a Store Manager, obtaining recognition for greatest increase in sales, accurate inventories, stable workforce and her artistic displays.

From there she transitioned into another passion, that of social services, and working as an employment trainer/counselor, working in a group for several years. During this time she returned to university at night, taking courses in workplace safety which would eventually be used as credit towards certificates in adult education and human resource management.

After a few years working in low paying, but socially rewarding social service areas, Pat took a risk to leave her city life behind and accepted a professional position as a Regional Resource Developer for the Home Care Program, based in the northern community of The Pas, Manitoba. It was one of the best decisions (and greatest professional experiences) of her life! She completed her Certificate in Adult Education to hone her skills as a trainer/facilitator/developer, furthered by a Certificate in Human Resource Management, obtaining the national CPP designation.

This combination of education and demonstrated skills gave her the confidence to successfully apply for a similar position in Southern Manitoba, where she stayed until her position was deleted just prior to her retirement. Once again though, at a much older age, she was face to face with another career change. After a few false starts and much introspection, she chose to leave the health care field, and to follow another passion. Pat worked part time in garden centers during this time, while once again continuing her formal education.

Pat now works part time in sales for a national design company and as an EAL instructor for the Immigrant Centre in Winnipeg.

Life is good!

2. What is your philosophy of work?

Both of us believe that it is very important to follow your passions and to keep your options open.

3. What is it that you love most about the work that you do?

Both of us have had opportunity to work in areas we believe in, and in which we have made some difference in the lives of others. Resonates with our values and ethics.

4. At some point, you’re going to retire. Can you tell me what you’re most looking forward to?

Both of us have “retired” and have chosen to return to work because of the current economic situation. We enjoy working part time in positions with less responsibility and less stress, which give us the opportunity to pay off our debts so that we can make our retirement dreams a reality.

5. What advice do you have for people who are at the beginning of their careers?

*Know yourself.

*Follow your passions.

*Take risks.

*Pay attention to your “gut” and your intuition.

*RUN from positions where the expectations and responsibilities are not clearly defined. At first blush this may be enticing for those of us who like the freedom to create, however in reality these opportunities often reflect corporate chaos

*Remember that while most people are relatively “good”, many lack ethics. You WILL be surprised, and often disappointed, by others.

*Keep your options open through networking, continuing your education, and developing an unquestionable reputation.

*Keep your own counsel.

*Speak carefully. Not everyone actually wants your opinion, even though they say they do.

*Become an expert on non-verbal communication and pay attention to body language.

*Be aware that you are always replaceable.

*And, most importantly, understand that work is only a small part of your life. There will always be another job, but not always an opportunity for good health and a happy family life.

3 thoughts on ““Understand that Work is Only a Small Part of Your Life”

  1. dandalion01

    Brilliant & inspiring! Pat & Harv’s advice couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Their honesty & advice will be something I take to heart. 🙂

  2. shelley

    Great post! The advice is not only good for people starting their careers but wonderful reminders to everyone at all points in their careers. Thanks for sharing, Geraldine! 🙂


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