A Word from John Bowen

I feel like a phony.

Every twelve months, starting in the last week of November, I begin my Christmas rounds of the Bowens branch network. They are my favourite four weeks of the working year. The genesis of this habit began so long ago I am unable to recall its first happening; maybe 2005? Way back then I thought it would be good to personally wish each member of the Bowens’ Team a Merry Christmas and thank them for their contribution to the year soon to conclude.

Unlike other visits and conversations across the calendar, there is something different in those final one-to-ones before pulling up stumps and enjoying deserved time away from work. There seems to be more depth and greater meaning in the minutes shared. While chats with some are fleeting, many are not. On occasion I am alerted to issues individuals are dealing with at home and/or work. Often, I am buoyed by enthusiastic support for managers, the facility’s culture or special moments of personal triumph. It is amazing how diverse and engaging 500+ conversations can be.

I firmly believe ‘we work so we can live’, not the reverse. For this to be true and for me to ensure such a maxim is lived, not only spoken, conversations and the opportunity to express feelings are critically important. Identifying dreams or, at least, events we are looking forward to experiencing create energy and a sense of beginning anew. No time is more positive than when we cast our eyes into a New Year.

While I was slapping backs and thanking one and all for pushing through a year most found significantly more difficult than Covid Version-1, I was also asking our crew to imagine the better world we would be returning to once our Christmas break was done. To believe there were better days on the horizon. Yet here we are, doing, saying and dealing with the all too familiar challenges, once more. I made promises I couldn’t keep.

On the day of writing this article, local and national newspapers are dominated by a return to well-known, notorious headlines: ‘Schools Face an Interrupted Return to Class’, ‘Covid Fines’, ‘Premier Andrews Riding High as State Sinks’, ‘Hospital Admissions … ‘, ‘Case Numbers … ‘. Boring, boring, boring and exhausting. The year hasn’t even had time to overcome its holiday hangover. And the mask wearing – I was so excited for my crew in December when mandatory face coverings were cancelled. We were able to breathe. Wrong by me, again.

How do I inspire my troops once more? They have gone over and above for two years now, expending all of their energy in reaching for the last day of their 2021 working year. A relaxing, uninterrupted summer was meant to ensue, along with a clear run at ‘normal’ in a fresh year filled with the hope of a return to the way things used to be. A dark cloud looms for all at Bowens, our customers, suppliers and friends. From The Age, on 23 January 2022:

“Victoria has started the new year as the most pessimistic jurisdiction in the nation, with just 24 per cent of Victorians believing the state’s outlook would improve compared to 30 per cent thinking it would worsen.”

With this being our lot, it’s our choice to put some pep in our step or wallow in misery. For those who are familiar with how I think, it would be no surprise for me to suggest the latter option is no option at all. We must pick ourselves up and build momentum.

Yes, things have been difficult, but how tough has it really been? In these same pages I have taken this position before. Right now, in our world, there are people, millions of them, who are really struggling. Our plight is feeble, in comparison.

For Christmas I received an easy read, perfect for a few days on the beach. ‘The Happiest Man on Earth’, by Eddie Jaku, a man born in Leipzig, Germany in 1920.

Eddie was a proud German until his arrest in 1938 when he was hauled away because of his faith. The Nazi’s war on Jews is well known – always horrifying – but Eddie’s firsthand description of his time in Buchenwald, going underground, then to Auschwitz, the Death March and rebuilding himself in the post-war years is astonishing. The number of times he was starving, frozen, despondent, on the edge of death – yet able to overcome. His determination to survive eventually triumphed over the evil forces pitted against him.

Despite the countless reasons he has to loathe this world, Eddie’s strong and simple message is to smile, to take heart when something goes wrong, to tell your mother you love her, to hug your children – because you can. On page 155,

“Here is what I learned. Happiness does not fall from the sky; it is in your hands. Happiness comes from inside yourself and from the people you love. And if you are healthy and happy, you are a millionaire. And happiness is the only thing in the world that doubles each time you share it.”

It is easy to be despondent as we begin 2022. Holidays interrupted, workdays continuing to be hijacked by situations we are unable to control, the inconvenience of covid rules and mask wearing … many of us, me very much included, were expecting so much more. Even so, is our plight as bad as many of us are making out? Eddie’s story suggests not.

Tempering expectations is within our power; I need to make this adjustment, for a while. Less big promises, while continuing to be grateful for the many good things, is how I am going to approach the New Year.

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