Bryn Terfel and Work Life Balance

Those who know me well, will not be surprised that Bryn Terfel features in an article. He is an opera singer, famous for his voice, acting, musical interpretation, being Welsh, successful cross over albums and now deciding not to do a long awaited performance as Wotan in three of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Covent Garden.   Bryn Terfel made a decision to pull out as he had a ‘stressful family situation’. He angered Covent Garden and his and Wagnarian fans who had paid a substantial amount for the tickets to see him. The flack was personal: ‘lack of stamina and commitment’; ‘knew he was not up to the performance’; ‘his career will never be the same’; ‘what was the real stressful family situation so important not sing Wotan?’ A familiar life/work balance decision, the usual comments questioning integrity from an organisation’s viewpoint and a real issue that many face. When the chips are down, is my career more important than my family?

Now the flack has died down, Bryn has spoken about his decision. His son needed an operation on his finger. He had previously spoken about his regret at not spending time with his family as they were growing up when he was building his reputation in opera houses all over the world. He re-valuated what was important to him.He knew when he started rehearsals for Siegfried that he was physically in London but emotionally and mentally in North Wales with the impending operation. Not unpacking his suitcase told him something. He made the decision to withdraw.

One of the diagnostic tools I use with clients is Ed Schein Career Anchors. He sees there are 8 anchors which guide career decisions. One is life work balance. Some one who has this anchor needs to feel their personal, family and career issues are fully integrated, that they have work that is meaningful to them and that their way of living is respected by others.

As Bryn has been asked by Covent Garden to perform in the 2012 Ring Cycle, his career is back on track.  Some thoughts:

• If work life balance is an anchor for you, be true to it. One of my clients, a director in a computer company integrated it into his purpose. 'Doing a meaningful role which makes a difference and provides for me and my family'.

• If work life balance is not you, respect those to whom it is important and don’t pull the guilt card overtly or covertly. If you lead such folk, consider organisational forgiveness. i.e. they may not play to the organisations rules but they are true to their values and looking at the big picture, their contribution could be significant.

• If you do make a decision like Bryn did, keep your counsel, allow the dust to settle and then talk about it

• Listen to that inner voice that knows. Bryn has acknowledged this:  “Maybe I wasn’t ready then to do the three operas together and fate came and put her hand in and said ‘No, this isn’t the time. You have to be home with your children’.

• If something is meant to happen, opportunities come around again. The future is not always in our idea of time and space.

• If life work balance is important, build relationships, talk about your values so when a crunch time comes, there has been enough sound history to get a reputation back on track

• Know when to give that extra and know when to say no.

• Look for future opportunities to change perceptions.


Four months on Bryn Terfel received tremendous reviews for his performance of Falstaff with Welsh National Opera. I know, I was there!


©Judith Mills March 2008