Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Work-Life Balance

I spent the day at my sister's house on Saturday, while my husband spent the day performing in a gospel play on Saturday.  Among the many topics discussed, we began talking about work-life balance and how I believe that "having it all" does not exist in real life.  This is a very pertinent topic because she is currently in a situations where the demands of work are threatening to take over her life and I am in a situation where I am expecting my very first child in the summer and am trying to figure out how I will be able to balance career, motherhood, wifehood and God.  My belief is that you must prioritize and in prioritizing, something will suffer.  I have strong beliefs about the order by which a person should abide. 
  1. God
  2. Spouse
  3. Childen
  4. All Else (ie. family, career, etc. etc.....I think the order of these vary depending on your situation.)
I digress, but my point is that having it all would involve being able to have 100% of the things you want 100% of the time. However, in real life, varying needs of various priorities in your life will cause you to have to sacrifice the other.  There is rarely a win-win situation. 
What do you do if there's a career changing opportunity at your job that requires you to work crazy hours, 6 days a week for the next year, but you also have a semi-new marriage and a 1-year old child?
You can pass up that great career opportunity and stay in the same or slightly higher position at your job or you can take that opportunity and cause a strain in your marriage and miss all the important landmarks in your 1-year old child's life.  You may still have a job, a spouse and a child, but something is suffering.  Is that having it all?
Anywho, the conversation with my sister is not what made me pull out a new entry in my blog post.  This op-ed article in The New York Times did.  Enjoy!
The New York Times

March 9, 2013

Is There Life After Work?



AT an office party in 2005, one of my colleagues asked my then husband what I did on weekends. She knew me as someone with great intensity and energy. "Does she kayak, go rock climbing and then run a half marathon?" she joked. No, he answered simply, "she sleeps." And that was true. When I wasn't catching up on work, I spent my weekends recharging my batteries for the coming week. Work always came first, before my family, friends and marriage — which ended just a few years later.

In recent weeks I have been following with interest the escalating debate about work-life balance and the varying positions of Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo and the academic Anne-Marie Slaughter, among others. Since I resigned my position as chief financial officer of Lehman Brothers in 2008, amid mounting chaos and a cloud of public humiliation only months before the company went bankrupt, I have had ample time to reflect on the decisions I made in balancing (or failing to balance) my job with the rest of my life. The fact that I call it "the rest of my life" gives you an indication where work stood in the pecking order.

I don't have children, so it might seem that my story lacks relevance to the work-life balance debate. Like everyone, though, I did have relationships — a spouse, friends and family — and none of them got the best version of me. They got what was left over.

I didn't start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job. It crept in over time. Each year that went by, slight modifications became the new normal. First I spent a half-hour on Sunday organizing my e-mail, to-do list and calendar to make Monday morning easier. Then I was working a few hours on Sunday, then all day. My boundaries slipped away until work was all that was left.

Inevitably, when I left my job, it devastated me. I couldn't just rally and move on. I did not know how to value who I was versus what I did. What I did was who I was.

I have spent several years now living a different version of my life, where I try to apply my energy to my new husband, Anthony, and the people whom I love and care about. But I can't make up for lost time. Most important, although I now have stepchildren, I missed having a child of my own. I am 47 years old, and Anthony and I have been trying in vitro fertilization for several years. We are still hoping.

Sometimes young women tell me they admire what I've done. As they see it, I worked hard for 20 years and can now spend the next 20 focused on other things. But that is not balance. I do not wish that for anyone. Even at the best times in my career, I was never deluded into thinking I had achieved any sort of rational allocation between my life at work and my life outside.

I have often wondered whether I would have been asked to be C.F.O. if I had not worked the way that I did. Until recently, I thought my singular focus on my career was the most powerful ingredient in my success. But I am beginning to realize that I sold myself short. I was talented, intelligent and energetic. It didn't have to be so extreme. Besides, there were diminishing returns to that kind of labor.

I didn't have to be on my BlackBerry from my first moment in the morning to my last moment at night. I didn't have to eat the majority of my meals at my desk. I didn't have to fly overnight to a meeting in Europe on my birthday. I now believe that I could have made it to a similar place with at least some better version of a personal life. Not without sacrifice — I don't think I could have "had it all" — but with somewhat more harmony.

I have also wondered where I would be today if Lehman Brothers hadn't collapsed. In 2007, I did start to have my doubts about the way I was living my life. Or not really living it. But I felt locked in to my career. I had just been asked to be C.F.O. I had a responsibility. Without the crisis, I may never have been strong enough to step away. Perhaps I needed what felt at the time like some of the worst experiences in my life to come to a place where I could be grateful for the life I had. I had to learn to begin to appreciate what was left.

At the end of the day, that is the best guidance I can give. Whatever valuable advice I have about managing a career, I am only now learning how to manage a life.

Erin Callan is the former chief financial officer of Lehman Brothers.