A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by a Belgian politician who wanted to get a deeper understanding about the how and why of our decision to leave our settled life and go out on this adventure. This is an excerpt of the article that was a result of this talk:
I was invited to meet Willem in the office of Kreski in Nazareth, Belgium. Upon arrival, the office turns out to be Willem and Lieve’s house. A conscious choice, I quickly hear.
Willem: “Before I started with Kreski I worked for a business center, I was a consultant in sopecialised in government grants. Since 2012 I I do the same job in my own company Kreski. But now I have the freedom to organize my time myself, and I would not want that any other way. Kreski consists of 4 partners, when my wife Lieve got a little tired of her job at that time, she also came to work for Kreski in 2015. Since then, we both work from home, which is great. Even the kids come home at noon to eat together.
That entanglement of work, private, family works very well for us. I have always found it strange to be ‘the employee’ at work, ‘dad’ and ‘partner’ at home, and ‘friend’ at weekends. But I am all that, all the time. Why would I have to put those aspects of my personality into time booths?”
Willem responded to my call to ‘career stories’ because he and his family will take it one step further in their way of combining work and private life starting this summer.
“We are going to travel for a year with our 3 children, and work and school on the go”. “Why we choose to do this? We just want to be together as a family, spend time together. We were doubting about the Belgian schooling system, about what we want to offer children as education, as well as what we are looking for in life. We want to blend work, education and private life as much as possible in the coming year, and we feel that it will be much better for us. We will be finding it out together, constantly looking at how our children deal with it too. We are convinced that the way in which we deal with time and pressure in this society is totally wrong, we run past life. The idea that when you retire “you can start doing what you want to do” feels so wrong. We should be doing it all the time already!
Ever since our youngest was two years old we make a long journey with the children during the summer holidays. Last year in Panama, the idea arose to leave a whole year and homeschool the children. At first it seemed like a big step, we had a long list of ‘yes-but-arguments’: education, finance, work, and so on. We then investigated and discussed the ‘buts’ one by one, until in the end only ‘yes’ remained. No way we could avoid it anymore…
To be able to afford this all we will keep working. We found a way to keep working on the projects that were already started. Our partners will take care of the live customer contacts that really have to be done on site. We will keep in contact with the clients by mail or some kind of conference call. We will try it out and find out what works as we go along. But this choice of ours fits the philosophy of Kreski perfectly. We always propagate time and place independent work when working with companies. Proof there of can be found in the fact that our clients almost unanimously react very positive and open minded when we tell what we are going to do.
I graduated as a sinologist, and my wife too. But the most important thing that we got out of university is each other (laughs). We have been living in China for six months, but other than that we have done very little with our degree. Beyond a general view of life that university gives you, of course. This also tought us to look differently at the education and future of our children: it does not really matter what kind of degree you have. It is your attitude that is important. If you really want to go for something, then you will achieve it. If you somehow didn’t get the exact perfect schooling background, you might have to step it up to be able to start the education you want, but if you’re really committed, that’s all possible.
I am the chairman of the school council in the school of my children. We had chosen this school because of their proclaimed focus on each individual child. Unfortunately I still see that happening way too little. You can not really blame the individual teachers, it is rather the system that needs to be adjusted. We see many possibilities of what might be possible, but change does not come easy. A lot of small things have changed already, but you do not change a system overnight. For a while we even thought about setting up our own school, but the project we’re up for now, will be even more challenging and inviting.
Both in schooling and in the professional world you see the same problems coming back. There is far too much adherence to fixed rules, convictions, fixed hours from 9 to 5. For example, last week I was talking to a manager in about the possibility of sustainable HR policy and moving away from top down hierarchy. A lot could be discussed until we reached the possibility of flexibility in job organisation. Flexible working hours would still be a possibility, but option like working at home was a definate no go. But when people are in the office, that does not mean that they are really working. If people work at home, you can not control that either, but experience shows that many people are often a lot more productive at home than at work. A number of people do not want to work at home, which is of course perfect. But many people would like to work at home. It would provide them more comfort, quality of life and time management. Why doesn’t everybody see that? Why can’t we change the system?
We tend to kling on to long known certainties. 80 to 90% of the projects that we write have sustainable carreers as their main goal. Occasionally I guide the company through the whole process from start to finish when a smarter way of organising is the main goal. And that’s where I see things happen. Those companies see that it can be done differently, but often do not know how to get started.
I think, for example, that fixed job descriptions are totally outdated. Companies keep talking about innovation and flexibility, but for their own staff everything has to remain the same. But if you have a fixed job profile, and the market changes, tasks are added, and everyone tries to duck dive in an attempt to avoid the additional tasks and shove them on to somebody elses plate. When people work together as a team they work towards a common goal. If that goal shifts for whatever reason, the team shifts along and tasks are completed by whoever is best fit for the job at that time. Of course, that kind of team must also be given complete confidence to be able to make those decisions autonomously.
Of course people do not like to change, and they don’t change overnight. But if we would calculate the social and economic costs of stress, burn-outs, and work-related accidents, the urge to do something about it would be far greater.