My father – probably the oldest businessman in Poland
My father set up his own business in the middle of Poland’s communist era. He was more or less the same age as I am now. He was a very experienced electrician, but had neither experience nor education in how to run a business.
This year he turns 80 and is still working. I suspect he is the oldest business owner in Poland! Almost every day, he wakes up at 5am and sets off to open his little shop where he sells spare parts for agricultural machinery and tractors. If he’s having a bad day or if it’s a public holiday, he stays home. But the shop is like a hobby for him. It’s a place where he can meet people and put his extensive knowledge of agriculture to good use. I doubt there is any profit being made. In fact, I have a feeling that he finances the shop with his pension! But thanks to this shop, which is called “URSUS – części zamienne”, he keeps his mind and body active and stays motivated. My mom, brothers and I used to tell him to close the business. But after many fruitless attempts at persuasion, we eventually accepted that he would never listen, and that closing the shop would be the worst thing for him. It was his life and what kept him going every day.
When work life balance is not possible
My father’s life is not a perfect example of work life balance. In fact, it is the opposite. He chose work and business over his personal life. He did this because he wanted his family to have a better life and more opportunities than what was standard in Poland in the 1980s. It wasn’t about him or his ego. He just didn’t see any other options. Very quickly, he crossed the balance line and was overwhelmed by work. Times were harsh for business owners. They were not appreciated by the state or protected by law, and so my father needed to work constantly to make ends meet. He spent weeks at a time working nonstop, trying to make the business work. We never had family holidays together, and we rarely saw him laugh or enjoy himself. But he never gave up, which I didn’t understand.
But now, I see what made him so determined. He was driven more by the feeling of independence and freedom than money or profit, of which there was never much. Before he owned his own business, he struggled a lot with trying to fit into a large state company where he worked. He disliked submitting to his superiors, and even working within a team. Independence is a core value that was and still is crucial for him.
A splinter under my skin
I inherited this approach from my dad. But it took me almost 47 years to fully embrace and accept this part of myself. The memory of my father’s daily fight to keep his business going and perpetual exhaustion are burned into my memory. I didn’t want such a life for myself, full of sacrifices, stress, pressure, with no time for rest, joy, pleasure, and family. I wanted to laugh, be happy, and feel serenity. From my childhood, I internalised the belief that running a company means I would never get that. My professional path has been a winding one, full of new beginning and directions as I searched for the right place. My choices almost always led me to being a part of a bigger organisation which, I assumed, was necessary to feel safe and secure. And it was. I felt secure and safe, but somehow, I didn’t feel satisfied or fulfilled. It was like a splinter under my skin – irritating but tolerable. It was something I learned to ignore.
Eventually, by observing and empathising with my father, I came to understand that what was making me so unfulfilled was a lack of freedom and independence. I came to terms with my fear of insecurity, and learned to conquer it. After all, I live in a very different world than my father did. Nowadays, there are so many more business opportunities than 30 years ago. And I am so lucky to know and to be a friend of Marzena, with whom developing M-Powered has been a life adventure, and a deeply meaningful and wonderful experience. I am so grateful to be here. I am so grateful to Marzena for inviting me to into her life. I am grateful to my father for giving me an example of what it means to live according to your values, even when that is difficult. Finally, I am grateful to myself for having the intuition and ability to recognise the signs and the opportunities life offers me, and the courage to embrace them.
Evaluate your own values
There is an excellent exercise to help you understand which values are most important to you. The hierarchy can change throughout the course of your life, but I find it very helpful to know ones own values, especially when making life decisions.
There are 2 steps in this short activity:
- List the values that you find important in your life. It could be: love, money, health, fulfilment, serenity.
- Now weigh the values against each other until you have narrowed down what matters most for you. For example:
Love and money
Imagine: You are loved but poor or you are rich but not loved. What would you choose?
Financial security and fulfilment
Imagine: You are financially secure but not fulfilled or you are fulfilled but not financially secured. What would you choose?
The results of the exercise don’t mean that you cannot have everything in your life. But whenever you struggle with tough decisions, you can just ask yourself what is behind this decision, what values it serves. And then, by confronting them you can find out what, in this present moment of your life, is more important. Be sincere with yourself. And never regret, even if you think you failed, it is always a learning. I have experienced this many times!