Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

The Secret GPS For Work Life Balance

Chapter 1: My Corporate Idolatry Post 14

The third and final part of Busting Your Corporate Idol: How To Regain Control Of Your Values & Regain Control Of Your Life is called “From Worship to Work.[i]” These final four chapters chart a path from excess devotion to a more balanced life.  Many people who have transitioned from worship to work remain employed in the corporate world, but with a better awareness of their true values, which empowers them to set different priorities and to make different choices.

Chapter 7 gives the first step, to secure an identity that puts people first, ahead of the company.  “Sue”, a director in the hardware industry has a serious identity issue.

It’s almost like [I am a] battered wife, where I take a lot of abuse by the way of hours and demands that I impose on myself.  It is hard for me to set limits.

But one person in isolation isn’t strong enough to resist the constant pull from the company for more time and attention.  It takes support from a community of like-minded people, and Chapter 8 teaches you how to build such a community.  In Chapter 9, you will learn the business case for good, a method to subvert the system of forecasting and power politics to guide the company and your management to make decisions in line with your core values.

Chapter 10 explores provocative questions and practical metrics to advance you down your new path.  You will see the world in a different way, and you will say no to additional work without regret or hesitation. One director told me how he became a different person when he started shutting off his devices on the weekend.  I didn’t realize it until Sunday night, when I started feeling the low level stress in my belly.  It was coming back.  Idolatry always tries to come back.  But when you understand the dynamics, you can prevent it from taking control.

Life is like an eleven-sided triangle.  You can look at it from a lot of different directions, and see many different triangles.  All of them are correct, but none of them are complete.  Busting Your Corporate Idol presents another lens with which to examine the world, a lens that helped me see why my life was out of control, and what needed to change to make it right.

Reconnecting with my values was like getting a GPS for my life –I could now drive to a better place, one street at a time.

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[i] The phrase from ‘worship to work’ comes from Being God’s Partner: Hot to Find the Hidden Lind Between Spirituality and Your Work by Jeffrey Salkin p. 158. FYI I like parts of this book, especially its message that values should be the same at work as they are at home.  However, I disagree with the fundamental premise that the solution to chronic overwork is to bring a sense of spirituality to the workplace.

How To Identify When You Are Too Devoted To Work

Chapter 1: My Corporate Idolatry Part 13

The last post describes first part of the Busting Your Corporate Idol: How To Reconnect With Values & Regain Control Of Your Life, which introduces the concept of Corporate Idolatry, and reviews the nature of both idolatry and corporations.  The middle part of the book, “The Corporate Ladder Revisited” tells stories from life in the corporate world, and examines three factors that contribute to a life of Corporate Idolatry.  According to the business ethics literature, unethical behavior at work can be because of unethical people, challenging circumstances, or an unethical corporate culture.  The same three factors lead the adoption of a company-first value system. Proper understanding of the interplay among people, circumstances, and corporate culture is essential in order to identify the causes of Corporate Idolatry, and then to set appropriate boundaries around your life.

Chapter 4 introduces Scorpions, Foxes, and Wolves, three types of people you must be able to identify if you are to know who to trust in the workplace.  The animal names come from the Aesop’s fable The Scorpion and the Frog, and from the parable the Fox and the Wolf.

“The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?” Replies the scorpion: “Its my nature…” from Aesopsfables.com.

And if you think everything at work depends on you, Chapter 5 will burst your bubble.  Psychologists call it “The Illusion of Control,” and it can manifest in the workplace as a special kind of idolatry.  Chapter 6 tackles company culture, which like all cultures uses things like rules, traditions, myths, and rituals to perpetuate itself.

Here is a story from a company that ships radiolabeled isotopes for medical tests.  “Something went wrong with the reactor and the people on the night shift had to run in to the reactor to get [the isotype in order to make the shipment deadline.] They got 10 times the dose they legally should have.  It wasn’t driven by commercial gain.  It was driven by “oh we’ve go to do a good job.”

What are the stories from your company?

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Regain Control of Your Life Through Stories About People

Chapter 1: My Corporate Idolatry Part 12

Busting Your Corporate Idol: How To Reconnect With Values & Regain Control Of Your Life is a book full of stories..  The longer a story has been told, the more likely it is to resonate with fundamental ideas about people.  I include stories from ancient sources like Aesop or the Bible, as well as modern stories, like the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller or the movie The Devil Wore Prada.  Across industries and level, in the Bible and in literature, I see the same story again and again. Excess devotion to things (like a company) comes at a high price, while focus on people (like family or community) brings greater happiness and internal peace.

The book is divided into three parts.  The first part of the book, “Corporate Idolatry Busted” tells the story of idols and corporations to help you see the world in a different way.  In today’s world, ‘idol’ generally refers to a secular object that is blindly or excessively admired. ‘Idolatry,’ however, refers not to feelings but actions. To give a trivial example, it is one thing to admire the winner of the TV show American Idol.  It is quite another to dye your hair and change your speech patterns to mimic the winner in daily life.

But idolatry is anything but trivial.  According to traditional Jewish teachings, you are allowed to commit any sin if it will save your own life, with the exception of murder, incest, or idolatry.  Idolatry as bad as murder???  Why should I take a bullet to avoid having to bow down to a statue?  The short answer is that the idol is not just a statue; it represents a value system and a way of life.  The First, and arguably the most important, Commandment says there is only one God, which as I show in Chapter 2, can be translated for unbelievers into “there is only one set of unchanging universal values.” In Pagan Idolatry, there are many gods, each with their own set of rules, meaning that individuals can, and did, pick which set of rules to follow, including some systems where murder was permissible.

Some people look at multiple religions and see nothing but conflict.  I see the commonalities, a single gold standard of values that transcend religion and do not even require belief in God.  In Chapter 2 we will become acquainted with the Golden Rule, the Rule of Self Preservation and the Rule of Universality that together constitute the Fundamental Universal Values (aka Fun-U-Val for the corporate junkies who can’t remember anything without the aid of an acronym.)  Idolatry, then, is the adoption of values that conflict with Fun-U-Val.  Chapter 3 strips away all the anthropomorphisms, demonization, and lionization that we attribute to corporations.  They are institutions created to make money, and are a very efficient way to create goods and services.  But corporations are no more capable of noticing people than an anthill is capable of noticing the ants digging the tunnels.

What stories have inspired you to make a change in your life?

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New Values Brought a New Identity

Chapter 1: My Corporate Idolatry Part 11

If I was a scientist in my first incarnation, and a marketer in my second, what do I call my third?  Writer, philosopher, father, and husband are all labels that fit my identity, but the one I like the best is storyteller.  Busting Your Corporate Idol: How To Reconnect With Values and Regain Control Of Your Life  is a book full of stories.  Each chapter begins with a story from my life.  And many chapters include stories from the thirty men and women I interviewed for the book.  Most were directors and vice presidents from mid-size to large corporations.  Each story provides a snapshot of the corporate life, which together craft a mosaic from a broad range of age, experience, and industries.  Stories were shared in confidence, and unless otherwise noted have been camouflaged and/or combined to communicate the humanity while maintaining confidentiality.

While the details of each story were unique, there were a number of broad themes that transcend industry and even level in the company.  So don’t be surprised if you “recognize” one of the stories they tell – it’s probably not the incident you are thinking of, but one just like it that happens all the time in the corporate world.

I recognized parts of my past life in the story of a successful vice president in Silicon Valley.  When the stress level was high, I found it very hard to depressurize and became more and more short tempered. Little things, like the kids being late for school, could ignite my explosion.  Another told me the following I kick myself for working myself to death, giving up my free time on weekends, [not] pursuing my hobbies, [not] spending time with my spouse.  And when a vice president from the Midwest told me about his recent stroke at the age of forty-seven, I saw my life as it could have been, had I not changed my priorities.

But don’t worry – you don’t need to leave the corporate world to rebalance your life.  My life was in balance for a few years before I decided to move on, and many of the stories I tell are from people who have already realigned their priorities to “bust their corporate idols,” people who are now living less stressed and happier lives.

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Inspired To Change, I Left The Corporate World

Chapter 1: My Corporate Idolatry Part 10 

A few months after I left the corporate world, two former colleagues independently told me that I looked ten years younger.  Frankly, I was shocked to hear that.  Being in my early forties didn’t bother me, but if I had recently looked like I was in my fifties, that was disturbing, dismaying, horrifying.  I never thought of myself as one of those people who was prematurely aged by the hardship of the job.  But I was.  Best not to dwell on it.  Be thankful it is behind you, and make sure you don’t end up there again. 

I heard something else from former colleagues, especially the men.  “I’m jealous.  I wish I could do what you did and spend more time with my kids.” A few people told me they were inspired to make a change.  And I was inspired by them to write a book.

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Thanks to everyone who has given me such wonderful (and sometimes frank) feedback these first two weeks as I have been blogging Busting Your Corporate Idol: How To Reconnect With Values and Regain Control Of Your Life.  You are part of something.  Traffic through the site has been through the roof.  If you missed any part of the chapter, or haven’t yet shared it with a spouse or friend, you can find the whole thing here.  This book sparks conversation and debate, and the format is very amenable to discussion.

Let me start to answer a common question: “Where is this book going?  What if I don’t want to leave the corporate world?”

If you want a book that will tell you how to be successful in business, how to do more with less, or to blame corporations for all the ills of the world, then this is not the book for you.  But if you want a book that will help you see the world in a different way and empower you to make changes in your life, then read on!  And YES, there are absolutely changes that you can make to have a more balanced life without leaving the corporate world.

Next week’s posts will wrap up Chapter 1 with a preview of the rest of the book.  If you are interested in a look ahead, you can see the Table Of Contents for Busting Your Corporate Idol: How To Reconnect With Values and Regain Control Of Your Life here.

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