What waxing taught me about flexing

Simon Gregory, of GPS Return, looks back at an epic challenge he undertook in 2019, and what it can teach us about being a man and flexible working


At the start of 2019 a client, without asking, entered me into the sportive (the cycling equivalent of your local marathon) linked to the UCI World Cycling Championships that took place here in Harrogate in September. Which was nice of her. “I can do 30 miles” I thought. Except Kate had entered me into the 96-mile slog ‘enjoying’ more than 6,500ft of climbs up and down some of the worst hills in Yorkshire.

The fact that I didn’t even have a bike only seemed to widen Kate’s grin.

With only eight months to find a bike and build my fitness up to a point where I didn’t embarrass myself, I made a plan and got on with training. Turns out, I like cycling and, when the day came, I really enjoyed the sportive despite riding through heavy rain for more than half of it. Plus, I managed to finish the ride 58 minutes ahead of my target time and raised almost £2,000 for charity. Not too shabby.

Lessons learned

So what better way to celebrate than the inevitable “what riding a bike has taught me about running a business” blog. So here goes…

…actually, no. That’s not what I want to share with you, not anymore.

Whilst I did learn plenty of things that I could share with you, not least the fantastic benefits that regular cycling has had on my mental health, energy levels and motivation, the biggest lesson has to be to not underestimate the closed-minded and negative assumptions people make about things they don’t understand.

Perhaps, being a recruiter and speaking to lots of people everyday I should have been better prepared for it. Perhaps I should have ignored it and focused on the support, encouragement and generosity of those around me. Or perhaps I should learn from the experience.

Some people didn’t understand why I had decided to go ahead with the ride, others thought  I should raise money for a national or better known charity rather than a local charity few have heard of, but the main source of negativity, from people all over the UK, was the reaction to me waxing my legs.

Waxing my legs

Now, a lot of cyclists wax/shave their legs mainly to make it easier to treat large areas of road rash when we inevitably fall off, get knocked off or crash in to a bridge (like me). You try sticking large amounts of surgical tape to hairy legs, it just doesn’t work. I also did it as a fundraiser and people seemed very happy to pay £10 to rip strips off me, but when I posted the video on social media I received a surprising amount of negative comments.

“Seriously?? What kind of a man waxes their legs??”

Still not 100% sure how to answer that one but it did get me thinking. Here is something that stings like 1,000 wasps on a jam-fuelled joy ride, that hurt more than the tattoos I’ve had, and I am being judged to be less of a man because of it.

Flexible working

If it is like this for me doing something as simple as waxing my legs for charity, what is it like for men asking for flexibility so they can be more present at home, or for those who decide to become full-time parents? For one candidate I’ve worked with, a Sales Director in a large American business, he left because of just this – consistent negative comments made because he wanted flexibility so he could see his kids through the week.

“What’s that on your head? Oh, it’s your wife’s thumbprint”

Yes, I am being serious. He was asked the same question everyday for six months. It got so common that even the intern thought it was normal behaviour and also started asking it.

Make a plan

So, what can you do? Taking positive action is the best first step – take control of your situation. But then what?

  1. Make a plan (yes, like my training plan). Decide on what steps to take and by when.
  2. Work out how much flexibility you would like – ideal vs. minimum
  3. If you haven’t already, talk to your business about flexibility and submit a formal request – they are legally required to consider it.
  4. If you are the subject of ‘banter’ start writing the comments down. Don’t wait until you’ve had enough because it’ll be much harder to build a case by then. Start now. Plus, doing something pro-active will help.
  5. If you decide you want to work for a business that welcomes flexibility and enables people to be both the parent and professional they want to be, then get started on your CV.
  6. Talk to other Dads and see if they know of companies who offer flexibility.
  7. See if there is a recruitment business in your area, like GPS Return, that recruits flexible roles. Or just peruse the range on workingdads.co.uk

Whether you follow this step by step or go straight to step 6, the point is this. You don’t have to put up with a lack of balance or the ‘banter’, nor should you feel helpless with nowhere to turn. Take positive action and leave the business or the people, that are holding you back behind you. Take small steps forward everyday and soon you will suddenly find yourself surrounded by people who all wax their legs and, better yet, will think more of you for doing so.

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