Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Is the Era of Work Over People Coming To An End?

Chapter 10: The People-First Life Part 16 (Conclusion)

Busting Your Corporate Idol (Conclusion)

I’m incredibly optimistic that the era of busting corporate idols is upon us. Look to the millennial generation – they grew up watching their parents work all the time, and want something better for themselves.

And more and more, those of us in middle or the end of our careers want a better life too. Even senior executives are starting to publicly admit that it doesn’t have to be this way. Ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable that an executive from Goldman Sachs would condemn the company’s values in a public resignation letter. But that is exactly what Greg Smith did a year ago.

In 2007, it would have been unthinkable that Erin Callan, then CFO of Lehman Brothers, would one day write about the regret she feels for putting the company first. Yet that is exactly what she did last week. Callan wrote

“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 [CFO] 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.”

None of us can have it all, but we all can have people who love us. It’s just a matter of values and priorities.

Wherever you are in your life, whatever you have done in the past, it is never too late to shift your focus, to bust your corporate idol, and to start putting people first.

The people are there, waiting for you with open arms.

How To Think Less About Work and More About Life

Chapter 10: The People-First Life Part 14

Have I convinced you that there is something to this Corporate Idolatry thing? Maybe or maybe not, but in either case, I hope you see the world a little differently.

The first time I presented the outline for Busting Your Corporate Idol, the writing class was split. Some people thought it was an amazing idea that spoke to them. Others were viscerally upset, arguing that the book attacked the basic work ethic, and was anti-corporation. It took me only ten minutes to present the outline; we discussed the idea for forty-five minutes.

That class was a safe place to talk. I hope you can find a safe place to re-examine who you are and what is most important to you. An outside perspective can really help. If you play your cards right, you can get your company to pay for an executive coach, for “professional development.” Once you are behind closed doors, you can ask the coach to help you get your life back into balance. Coaches tell me this is very common.

Maybe you want to change, but are afraid to start. The first step is the hardest, so let me give you some help. Say to yourself  out loud “My company will no longer be my idol. I’m going to start putting people first.” And thereafter, begin each day thinking or saying “I am the kind of person who puts people first.” You’ll start to see the world differently, and you’ll start to make different decisions.

This may seem hokey, but if you really want to change, what do you have to lose?  Does it seem scary to pull back from work? That is understandable too. You may also feel like you are the only one who has doubts about the corporate life. Believe me, you are not alone.

There is a secret army of people who are starting to speak out, and starting to make changes.

What do you think about Corporate Idolatry? Please comment below, and then click through to read the conclusion to the book in the next post.

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Should Working Seven Days a Week Carry the Death Penalty?

Chapter 10: The People-First Life Part 14

According to the Torah, the basis for traditional Jewish law, the penalty for working on the Sabbath is death by stoning. Is this just another example of the grumpy, jealous God of the Old-Testament, or is there something we can learn today?

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the Sabbath was first introduced in the Bible when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. (Moses asked that the Israelites be given a day off.)  As slaves, they did not have control over their time, and needed to do what the taskmaster asked them to.

And we can never forget that in Egypt the Israelites worshipped the idols of the Egyptians. It is amazing to me how often the Israelites tried to go back to Egypt. In fact, the Israelites made it all the way to the border of the Promised Land, chickened out, and tried to go back to Egypt. As a result wandered for 40 years in the desert. The story of the death penalty for working on the Sabbath took place during the time in the desert.

I see the Shabbat Laws in the context of cultural change. The Israelites were a people who would not change.

The draconian nature of the punishment for working seven days a week highlights both the difficulty of getting people to stop working, as well as the importance of a time to recharge for human health and welfare.

In addition, I know from firsthand experience how addictive the always-on experience can be. And from from a business standpoint, there is a competitive advantage, at least in the short run, of being open seven days a week. The death penalty solves both of these issues – it levels the playing field for all businesses, and for all people.

But punishment alone is tough sell for changing behavior. Jewish Laws and customs also describe the Sabbath as a taste of the World to Come (Heaven). Shabbat is a day of contemplation and life-affirming activities. For example, Jews are commanded to have a festive meal, take a nap, and have sexual intercourse.

Let me get this straight, once a week I am commanded to eat well, get extra sleep, and have sex?  Throw in watching a college basketball game and it really is heaven for me.

So the lesson for recovering corporate idolators is this: combine some hard and fast rules to limit work, and plan some fun activities in it’s place.

For me, a day without work means no email, no writing, and no social media. I’ll be honest, it is hard for me, even today. I try, and most weeks I succeed. Living in the post-idolatry world does not mean never making a mistake, or a problem free life, but it does mean a deliberate effort to steer towards the family.

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Is a Day Without Work Too Much To Ask?

Chapter 10: The People-First Life Part 13

Now that you are saying no to your boss, I suggest that you work towards a six day work week. One day with no email and no phone calls. I know, there is a perception that we are all expected to be on call all the time. Sometimes this is reality, but more often it is merely perception.

When I was interviewing people for the book, I sometimes pushed to understand why someone was working every day. Some people said “Don’t blame the company, I’m choosing to do this.”  I would smile and nod, but I wanted to scream “Yes, that proves my point! You are choosing to work all the time!” The other common answer went something like this “The more senior you are, the more there is an expectation that you need to be available 24/7.” Again I nodded, but inside I was thinking of the CEOs and senior VPs I interviewed who said that they felt a day away from work was critical to their success.

I’ve defined corporate idolatry as a company-first or work-first value system. And people who are caught up in corporate idolatry create illusions that support he company-first lifestyle. I think both of the arguments above are indicators of corporate idolatry.

Way back in Chapter 2, I pointed out that the first two of the Ten Commandments are prohibitions against idolatry. The Fourth Commandment instructs us to “Keep the Sabbath,” a day without work. Did you know that some Rabbis argue that the most important holiday in Judaism is the Sabbath? Yes, we are commanded to take a holiday every week. It was heresy in the pagan world.

For example, the Greeks and Romans criticized the Jews for the Sabbath, because leisure was something for the upper classes only, not to be shared with common workers. In an ironic twist, the corporate idolators of today think that the more senior are expected to work more than junior employees.

Is there a competitive advantage for a business that has people working seven days a week?

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The Secret To Saying No To Your Boss Is To Say Yes To Someone More Important

Chapter 10: The People First Life Part 12

Most of the time, your boss is the single most important person to you at your job. And given our propensity to obey authority figures, it is especially hard to say no to the boss – after all, it is part of your job to work on what they tell you to work on. And if you like the boss and like the company, saying no is even harder.

The trick to saying no in the post-idolatry world is to remember that work is no higher than the third priority in your life. If you are a believer, I don’t need to tell you that God is more important than work. And if you aren’t a believer, your health and the people in your life are more important than work.

So when your boss asks you to do something that you want to say no to, think of someone more important in your life, e.g a spouse, a child, or a friend. Now give that other person in your life more authority than your boss. If you say yes to the boss and work longer hours,  it will take away from a more important part of your life.

Imagine this other person is inviting you to be with them. Maybe it is a hike, maybe it is having dinner, maybe it is just sitting together. Visualize how they look at you. They see you for the person you really are, and love you for it. And because they are more important to you than the company, your mind is clear.  You are in the moment with them, free from the mental chatter of the work world.

Say yes to the other person, and then let your boss down easy.

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