Life Getting in the Way ... as It Should

Getting Back to Work When Your Heart's Still at Home

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Peter Madden
Peter Madden
After a long illness, on May 11, I lost my mother-in-law, Mae Lynch. As I described her in my eulogy, she was more my buddy than mother-in-law. She really enjoyed life, and when she was healthy, was always up for fun, whether that meant the beach, a restaurant or a margarita with my wife -- her only child -- on the porch.

Any agency owner would love her -- she was candid with a capital C, wouldn't hold back the laughter or tears if that's how she felt and admonished me because of one of our pro bono clients -- "don't ever work for free."

During the time we lost her, and the planning around services and more, I took time off to be with my wife, who is now without any parent because her dad died many years ago.

But eventually, you go back to your life, right? Yes, I've gone back to running AgileCat, but I feel like a half-inflated balloon, going through the motions, smiling at the right times and being as take-charge as possible with prospects and clients alike. But during every meeting, I'm always half-ready to just call a timeout and tell everyone that I am one sad dude.

But we forge on, right? Life moves on, and given we're all living at the speed of tweet, man, it moves on really, really quickly. And there I go -- the sad sack agency owner putting his nose to the grindstone and worrying about his wife, who is absolutely shattered. I think everyone wants to move on, but this is going to be a marathon, no doubt about it.

Life gets in the way, or in this case, slams you into a wall. Maybe an agency owner or creative reading this has a sick parent, or lost a loved one recently, The options for difficulties and challenges in life are limitless, and though I don't know what the secret is for getting back to work like the old you, I'm finding a way, and maybe you might keep in mind a few things below if you're in the middle of some tough times.or is caring for a loved one or sick child.

  1. Don't be a hero. I came back to work a couple days after the funeral, and man, was I not ready. My head was completely at home. I think I sat in front of my computer and stared for three hours.
  2. Tell people you work with how you're doing. In my case, most of our employees have had to go through some very difficult, if not tragic, things with their families. I had a receptive and empathetic audience. For me to share how I was doing for even a few minutes made me feel a little better, and in their case, helped them be less concerned about how I was really doing.
  3. Tell your clients. Wouldn't you want to know what someone you've been/are in the trenches with is going through? I received nothing but kind words and support for my family.
  4. Tell anyone you feel like telling about it. On the day I came back in (but shouldn't have), we had a very interesting meeting with a prospective -- and progressive -- client (a company that does money texting). I was on auto-pilot but did my best. After some post-meeting back and forth via email about our shared passion for music, I let him know about my mother-in-law. His only response was that he thought it reflected my passion for the work.
  5. Put your emotions into your work. Not to give a Knute Rockne speech, but we're lucky to be in a business where the best work is typically the most emotive. Pour it out and pour it on.

Mae always asked me about my business, and in her last days the question about how the agency was doing seemed to be more serious. She wanted to make sure that we were all going to be OK and that she wouldn't have to worry about her daughter or me any more after she was gone.

The reality of business is that there is no certainty, but I know I'm doing my best under the circumstances. For now, I'm doing it all for them and taking it an hour at a time, a day at a time, thankful to be around good people who want greatness.

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