Beginning with Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer putting the kibosh on work-from-home arrangements, the last couple weeks have been full of debate surrounding work life balance for businesswomen. Last weekend, the NY Times ran an essay by Erin Callan, former Lehman Brothers CFO. In the article, Ms. Callan paints a picture of what her life was like as a successful career woman. It’s not a surprise that it was all about work, and that her job took top priority above her spouse, family and friends.
Here are my takeaways:
1) Just because someone does not have children doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a life outside of work, or that she is less worthy of, or in need of balance. Whether our home life includes soccer games and PTA meetings or dinner dates and spin sessions with friends, it is equally important for everyone to have an active life outside of work.
2) Know what is important to you and set your boundaries. It is easy for a couple hours of Sunday night prep to turn into working 7 days a week. There will be weeks, even months where work will need more attention than usual. But allowing an all-consuming workload to become the norm takes a toll on your relationships, health and peace of mind. That is a high price to pay. And when you realize what you have lost, it might be too late.
3) Don’t let your job define you. This is a particularly tough one, because we live in a culture where one of the first questions we ask a person we’ve just met is “What do you do?” It is easy to define yourself by your job, but hopefully you are much more than that – a friend, a daughter, a mother, an awesome cook, an animal lover….. If you allow your job to define you, if you suddenly find it gone, what do you have left?
4) You don’t have to work around the clock to be successful. The law of diminishing returns definitely applies here. Ever work a 15-hour day, for days, even weeks on end? Think back as to how efficient you were while you were living on caffeine and a few hours of sleep. I would bet that you were not performing at your best. Taking a break and spending some time away from work is healthy for both you and your company.
5) Sometimes when the worst happens, it is the best thing for you. At the end of the article, Ms. Callan muses as to whether she would have ever gotten off the corporate treadmill had Lehman not collapsed. While it was a tragedy at the time, her stepping down from the position of CFO forced her to re-evaluate her life and priorities.
All of the above is easier said than done. When you find yourself wondering if you are giving up too much of yourself for your career, it might help to think of the famous words of Rabbi Kushner: “In all my years of counseling those near death,
I’ve yet to hear anyone say they wish they had spent more time at the office.“