Friday Rant: Acquiescence to Illness — Time Well Spent or a Sign of Weakness?

While this is certainly a rant against arcane views that one should never show weakness, it is also a celebration of personal transparency in modern business. I've been actively employed for over 40 years, so forgive me if my afternoon theme seems anachronistic. But the American work ethic is so deeply engrained, that it carries with it a certain degree of unrealistic -- and often times absurd -- standards of performance. Chief among them involves passionate drive and commitment that cannot be compromised -- not ever -- even when it jeopardizes our well being.

Perhaps it's the impending change of seasons, or the return to school of our young children, but Spend Matters corporate headquarters has been slammed over the past weeks with dreaded colds and apparent viral infections that are not conducive to optimal performance. Our Executive Editor, aka Jason, is as stalwart a modern Calvinist (sans the religious fervor) as anyone you could encounter and has fallen victim to an early seasonal plague, among others in the office environs.

He has reluctantly, and wisely, capitulated to some mid-day rest. But I'm reminded of a now deceased family patriarch who was, unarguably, one of the very best traveling salesmen in North America. He drove over 50,000 miles a year and represented dozens of manufacturers to retail outlets. In the days before cell phones and pagers, a customer once asked him if he was feeling better. There was hell to pay when he returned home that week because his wife, who handled the home office, mentioned to an account that he had been "under the weather". He lost it: "Never tell anyone that I'm not feeling well" he said; "They'll see it as a sign of weakness and buy from the competition."

Thankfully times have changed -- but to what extent? Despite the availability of "sick time" and "personal days", most of us road warriors are driven to produce beyond all odds. Men wanting to appear indefatigable and women driven to break the stubborn glass ceiling of income and position, all contributes to an ongoing risk of relinquishing our health and well being rather than briefly postponing our weekly deliverables.

If you think I'm exaggerating, remember Jim Henson. He was the brilliant and driven creator of the Muppets of Sesame Street fame who collapsed and died at his desk from Streptococcus pyogenes, an untreated bacterial infection. Granted, this a dramatic example, but the up-shot is that taking some time off to seek diagnosis, rest, and drink copious amounts of water when we fall ill is very wise personal risk management. And as I'm writing, I just received an email from our fearless leader that he has decided to have treatment for a deviated septum that exacerbates his ability to recover from these seasonal maladies. Go Jason!

Our patriarchal family salesman lived a long and successful life despite his denials surrounding occasional illness. He was fortunate. Life and business is far more frenetic today. Revere the performance you render 99% of the time and take license to get well when you need to -- it's not only smart, it's also a sign of personal strength and confidence.

- William Busch

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