Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

How Do You Balance Self-Care With Compassion?

I’m still working my way through the September crunch. Do you get this in your life too? With the summer over, and school starting for the kids, there are schedule disruptions as we try to piece together the kids schedules. when I was in corporate, summer ended and everyone realized they had to make the Q3 numbers all at once. I know traffic here has exploded too as everyone comes back online. Yesterday, I felt overwhelmed. Today, I’m looking to find the good in all this stuff.
Ok, I admit it – being overwhelmed by scheduling extra-curricular activities for my kids seems very much a first world problem, and not a particularly big one at that. In a time when the world is in a refugee crisis, #blacklivesmatter, and Muslim teen Ahmed Mohamed is arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school, should this trivial stuff even register? It should, and I’ll get to why in a moment.
First I want to comment on what happened with Ahmed. He is an inventive 14 year old 9th grader, who brought a clock to school, assembled with circuit boards and chunks of metal, to his Texas High School. The school panicked, thought it was a bomb, called the police, and escorted him out of the building in handcuffs. Shamefully, even after they learned it was not a bomb, he was suspended, and admonished for bringing something dangerous to school. This was abysmal treatment of a young creative mind, and fortunately he was not physically harmed. This negative situation opened the door to something amazing: people noticed, and acted.
First, there was outrage on social media as ordinary people spoke out. Soon, Ahmed was invited to
  • the White House to meet the President
  • Google’s science fair
  • Facebook, Twitter, and Box by their CEOs
Suddenly, Ahmed has amazing opportunities because people took action when something bad happened. Each person said to him or herself, “What can I do to make this better?” Collectively, they did a lot.
The Syrian refugee crisis is another opportunity to do good. Here again, some people are stepping up, donating money or opening their homes to help people in need.  I have come to believe that the bigger the crisis, the larger the opportunity to do good. If you would like to donate to help Syrian refugees, Google is matching individual donations. Click here if you’d like to donate.
But what about the garden variety day-to-day crisis, like the September crunch? It is tempting to focus our giving and kindness on “those truly in need.” Yet each of us has needs as well. They may seem trivial compared to the life or death situations faced by millions around the world, but they are the problems we are confronted with. Until we take care of ourselves, we cannot properly care for others.
The same formulation can apply to the trivial: What good can I see in this situation, and what action can I take to make a difference? Today I’m remembering how fortunate to live in an area with such choices for kids growing up. And, it is an opportunity to think about what is truly important to me. Where can I cut back for a few weeks until the schedule settles into a routine? Where can I add some exercise or stress relieving activities? How can I incorporate them into my life on an ongoing basis? If I am getting stressed, is it just me, or do the kids feel it too, and if so, perhaps they have too much on their plates.
And the action I’m taking? The Dr. Who marathon of course!
Tell me what you think. Do you feel the September crunch? How do you balance self-care with compassion?

Google Lost Its CFO to Poor Work Life Balance

Back from a wonderful four day weekend in Hawaii, the annual maintenance trip my wife and I take to Kona to look after our condo. We hadn’t been in over a year, and wanted to see the new tile that replaced the awful carpet. The tile looked great, and other than some missing vertical blinds, the place was in really nice shape! We shopped for art, and did a few things here and there. Oh yah, we snorkeled a lot, including a romp with dolphins. What is interesting is that because we didn’t need to work much on the condo, we had an opportunity to work on our marriage.
We have a really good marriage, yet we have very little time to just be together and talk. We covered all kinds of ground, about things big and small. We discussed whether we wanted to sell the condo too, which was a foil to discuss what is really important to us. Do we want to recover the time it takes to manage the rentals every week, and save money, or would we prefer to have this special getaway? If we didn’t have the condo, I doubt we would have as many weekends away together.
Patrick Pichette Google CFO The topic is timely: This week Patrick Pachette, CFO of Google announced that he would be retiring to spend more time with his wife. He shared that after 25 years of non-stop work that took away from his family life, it was time to stop and really live. Pachette was candid that while he loved his job, it was being an Insecure Overachiever that drove him to work so much.
I so very much applaud his decision to step back and enjoy the time with his wife. (His kids have already left home.) But it didn’t need to be this way. He could have enjoyed his job and success for so many years without sacrificing so much on the home front. He felt that Google needed him to be on all the time. Yet now Google has lost a fantastic CFO. Maybe if he was off some of the time over the last 25 years, he would be spending another ten years as CFO. For a company like Google that doesn’t give short term guidance to Wall Street so they can plan on a long time horizon, it seems like they fell short when it came to their people.
I think Google lost its CFO to poor work life balance. What do you think?
If you’d like to learn more about insecure overachievers, here is a post I wrote a few years ago.

Lessons From Overworked Teens

Overworked teens

Overworked teens

Last night in a mini-Torah study, we discussed the story of the binding of Isaac. As you may recall, God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. At the very last minute, when the knife is in the air, God sends an Angel to tell Abraham that he passed the test, and he doesn’t need to actually harm the boy. We argued whether despite appearances, Abraham was being a good parent by following God’s commands.

So what does this have to do with overworked teens today? For me, this is a story of power relationships. Abraham felt powerless to refuse God’s commands, just as Isaac felt powerless to try to prevent his impending death. Today’s teens are unbelievably over-scheduled, which is why teen anxiety and depression are at record high levels. They are kids, and it doesn’t occur to them that they can say no to activities, especially when the activities are fun. On top of that, they are told they need to be in the hardest classes, and “stand out” to get into the top schools. And without the top schools, they will be at a significant disadvantage in the working world. The data do not support these myths. Sadly, many of these messages come directly or indirectly from parents and teachers.
My views on teen overwork are radical. I see it as a social justice issue. These kids are put in a position where their health is at risk for a perceived gain that isn’t real. As parents and citizens, we have a duty to protect our kids from our own anxiety about the future. And one way to do this is to model good behavior when it comes to the number of hours we work. The kids are aping the behavior they see in the overworked adults all around them. While they can’t choose, we can.
The next time you hear someone recognized for outstanding work because they “sacrificed family time” for a work project, think back to the story of Isaac. Is the sacrifice really needed to meet the objective, or is it a test of loyalty?
To help cut back your own hours, try the list of 5 things with an accountability partner.
Be sure to include a rock solid stop time. It will motivate you to do the important things, and not to let them slide because you can always sacrifice the home time to get everything done.

Interview with Sarah Piampiano: From Investment Banker to Professional Triathlete

Sarah Piampiano: Living Life Her Way

Sarah Piampiano: Living Life Her Way

Today I’m pleased to share with you an interview I recently conducted with Sarah Piampiano. Sarah busted her corporate idol, and made a dramatic career change – from investment banker to professional triathlete.

 

1.    Tell our readers about yourself

My Name is Sarah Piampiano and I am a Professional Triathlete.  I used to be a 2-pack-a-day smoker and an Investment Banker on Wall Street in New York City.  In late 2009 one of my friends from college told me he had signed up and was training for an Olympic distance triathlon in an effort to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle.  Over a few too many drinks I bet him I could beat him in the race.  My experience ended up being so overwhelmingly positive, I was immediately hooked on the sport (and yes, I beat him!!).  The community, the sense of accomplishment and the fact that I was doing something healthy for myself inspired me.  I was excited to take on a new passion – a feeling I hadn’t felt for a long time.

I quit smoking and started training a few hours a week.  When I went and competed in my next event I won the overall amateur title. I got the idea in my head that perhaps triathlon was a route I wanted to explore more seriously.  I continued to race as an amateur for all of 2010 and 2011, but at the end of 2011 I quit my job and began competing professionally full-time.

2.     What was it like for you to be working 90-100+ hours per week as an Investment Banker?

Working that much was hard.  Some weeks I was working even upwards of 120 hours.  Your life just isn’t your own.  You get home from work anywhere from 12 AM to 3 AM (and many nights not at all), sleep for 2 or 3 hours with your blackberry on your chest, in case some important e-mail from China comes through, and then get up and go back to work.  I loved my job so it made the long hours manageable, but it was also stressful.  Your job becomes your priority, and everything else takes a back seat.

I remember when my grandmother died I flew home for the funeral pulled an all-nighter that night.  On the way to the church I was on a conference call with a client because the call “couldn’t be rescheduled”.  Nobody really had sympathy or cared that there was something personal going on in my life.  And that was hard for me – always putting my job first – ahead of family and friends.  There were a lot of benefits and amazing parts to the job as well.  I had to the opportunity to work with some of the largest and most powerful companies in the world.  I was able to travel to some amazing places and do business in so many developing nations.  It was a fascinating experience to feel like you were right in the heart of globalization.

3.     What was the a-ha moment that inspired you to sign up for the triathlon that changed your life?

For a long long time I had been trying to find a reason to stop smoking and to start living a healthier lifestyle and nothing had inspired me to do so.  That triathlon was what I needed.  I didn’t realize at the time how much it was going to change my life, but the knowledge that I had found something that gave me the simple desire and motivation to have more balance outside of work was a very liberating thing.

4.     Tell us about the process for you to transition into being a professional triathlete from having a desk job.  What were some of the factors that made you take this life change?

As a kid, my dream was to be an Olympic athlete.  That was what I wanted to be more than anything.  But as I got older and that possibility seemed less likely, I had to give up that dream and turn my attention to other interests and to an alternative career path.

After I won that second triathlon, I sat back and believed that I had what it would take to be great at this sport.  And as someone who had wanted to be a professional athlete my entire childhood, to have that thought was one of the most exciting moments in my life.  My results didn’t suggest I could be great, but I knew inside of me what was possible.

HSBC, who was my employer at the time, was also incredibly supportive.  At the end of 2010 I went to them and explained what I was trying to do.  I felt that the hours I was working, and the travel was preventing me from really testing myself to see if racing professionally was an option.  They were incredibly receptive and were willing to work with me.  We agreed that for one year (2011), I would reduce my hours to 40 hours per week, working 4 days, I would limit my travel only within the US, and when I was out of the office, I would not be working – i.e. I could focus on my training.

It was what I needed.  I performed in 2011 and at the end of the year, I left HSBC, packed up my apartment and moved to Santa Monica, CA to begin training and competing full time as  professional triathlete.

In terms of the “factors” that made me take this life change – I guess I feel like so many of us get caught up living our lives in the way we think we “should” be living.  We get comfortable in our situation and we are scared of change.  We fear failure.  And so, rather than challenging ourselves to truly live life to the fullest – to take what is offered to us and give it a go – we pass up amazing opportunities.

As a kid all I wanted to be was an athlete.  That was my dream.  As an adult here I was faced with an opportunity to live out that dream and do something and be something that so few people in this world can do or have the opportunity to do.  Yes I had a strong, stable, very well paying job.  Yes I had worked my ass off for years to get to the position in my company that I was.  Yes, becoming a triathlete meant leading a life (at least in the beginning) with much less stability and certainty from a financial standpoint.  Yes the chance of failure was high.  But – I guess my view is that I would rather take a chance, LIVE my life, create my own path, and chance success (vs risk failure), vs settling because that is what is expected of me.  I don’t operate that way.

Some people may look at my decision and think it was crazy, but my view is:  I’m single, I don’t have a family to care for, I’m a smart, professional woman with good business sense – I have the ability to return to the corporate world at any time.  And maybe, just maybe, my story, can inspire other people to stop settling and start living their lives a little bit more – bringing them more balance and happiness than they thought possible.

5. What is your routine like now?  What were the overall life changes you had to make to adjust to being a professional athlete.

When I first transitioned from working in the corporate world full time to training full time, I thought I was going to have all kinds of time on my hands.  But I was completely mistaken.  I train 7 days a week, with seldom a day off.  I am up every morning at 4:30 AM to start training and my day ends at 8 PM when I get into bed.  I train anywhere from 4 to 9 hours per day (of physical training), and then you have to factor in time for massage, napping (yes, that is a key part of my recovery process!!), speaking with a sports psychologist, meeting with my nutritionist, seeing a chiropractor, rehab and PT, as well as the time needed in working with existing sponsors, trying to work to gain new sponsors and to building your brand.

Yes, my job is to compete as an athlete, but I very much view this as a business start up, and my business’ success is dependent not just on my performance results, but how well I am able to market myself, build a brand image, represent my sponsors, etc, etc.  I spend a lot of time outside of my training working on this.  I work hard at what I do.

With that though, I am constantly working to create boundaries for myself and my job.  For example, with the rare exception, I put work away on the weekends.  Outside of my training, I try to just let myself relax, have fun, enjoy time away from the sport and to shut myself off from work.  I also give myself a night off each week from my diet so that I can feel relaxed, spontaneous and not so regimented in that routine.

There were so many life changes that took place.  My lifestyle has completely changed.  I lived a fairly luxurious life previously.  Where I had stable income, now I am financially much more strapped.  I live in a modest rental vs owning my home/apartment.  I used to party a fair amount, stay out late.  Now I am often in bed by 8 or 8:30 pm.  I used to eat out every meal and never cook.  Now I rarely eat out.  Cabs were my mode of transportation.  Now I walk or take public transportation.

There are times I miss my “old” life.  I didn’t leave a job or a life that I was miserable in.  In fact I loved it – so yeh – there are definitely things I miss.  But I love where I am at so much right now, that I don’t feel resentful about that at all.

6. How has making those overall life changes as a pro athlete made an impact on your life?

I feel as though I have learned so much about myself as person since I have made this change.  It may sound crazy, but I just feel like I have matured and the person I am becoming is actually someone I am much more proud of.  The world I was living in – I made tons of money, I was fairly materialistic, though I didn’t realize it at the time, I think I had this view that I was better than people – sometimes I feel like I didn’t really have a clear grasp of reality.  In the world I was in, I felt like I was larger than life.  And I’m not.  Not even close.

I’ve been humbled in my new life.  I’ve learned how live a more frugal and modest life, which has helped me to appreciate my environment and the people in it so much more.  I don’t take things for granted.  And I have learned kindness and teamwork go much further than contempt and a superiority complex.  I’ve learned that simple things like cooking a great meal with friends, or an afternoon in the park are some of life’s greatest pleasures – it is not about flying first class, or buying bottles at a club.

Making this change has just opened my eyes to how amazing the world is and how much it has to offer.  It’s been a pretty amazing experience for me.  I feel like my health has improved, my relationships have improved and flourished, my happiness has gone up, I know myself better and I am able to be truer to myself.  So many benefits!

The one other thing, that has sort of surprised me, is the way in which I need to manage my relationships.  When I worked in an office, I was in front of a computer and by a phone all day.  I could IM, e-mail, text, call anyone at any time.  Now, I am training all day and only in front of a computer at night, or by my phone in between training sessions.  I really failed my friends and family in my first year as a professional because I didn’t do a great job of staying in contact.  But from that, I’ve learned to communicate with them that when and when I am not available, and I’ve made changes in my schedule in order to regularly make time for them.  That was a true learning experience for me!

7. What are the things you do now to achieve life balance? Do you ever miss your “old life”?

As a pro athlete there are a lot of choices that we make to further our development. We may put ourselves on a strict diet, or go to bed every night at 8:00 pm, or rarely eat out or socialize. We train 7 days a week and we are “on” 24 hours a day because how we train, how we rest, how we eat – it all has an impact on how we perform. We put so many of our marbles into our jobs and we ask so much of ourselves – both physically and emotionally – and of the people around us. It is hard sometimes – particularly at the end of the season when fatigue and burn out are creeping in and we are ready for that much needed break.

But, pro athlete’s are not the only people who struggle with balance. In my prior life as an Investment Banker, I worked 120 hour weeks and had no balance at all – in fact, probably much less than I do now.

I’m often told how lucky I am to be able to ride my bike every day or swim in the sunshine vs in the dark morning hours. People see the sexy side of my job – I lead a ridiculously healthy lifestyle; I am in better shape than most people could even dream about; I get to run, ride and swim outside all day long; I get massages at least once a week; I get to travel to amazing locations to compete; I have an incredible set of sponsors whose products I get to wear, ride, and test. It seems so glamorous. And in many aspects it is. But like any job, it has its downsides too.

On the flip side, I can look at “normal” people and think – they only have to work 5 days a week. They can eat whatever they want, whenever they want. They can take vacations in months other than November and December. They can leave work at 5 pm and shut it off. They can stay out late and drink one too many beers. They can decide to go surfing one morning instead of to swim practice, or to that concert on Sunday night and get home at midnight  – the lack of sleep won’t really impact their job the next day, or the day after that, or the day after that.  They make a steady paycheck.

My point in all of this is that no matter what you do and how you choose to live your life, there will always be amazing parts to it, and there will also be not so amazing parts.

I absolutely love my job.  I have never been happier in my life than I am now. I feel lucky every single day that I have been afforded this opportunity, and the people I have met and the places I have been as a result of it are relationships and experiences that I would not change for the world. I. Am. Lucky.

But – part of loving what you do, and continuing to be fulfilled means also taking responsibility and recognizing what is important to you and what your needs are to keep you motivated and loving and living life to the fullest.

I remember when I was working in banking and had just become serious about triathlon. My life was either training or working. That was it. I didn’t have time for much else. And as a result, I began to resent both my job and my then-hobby. I wanted to go out with my friends and have more social time – that is important to me. And I wanted to have time to myself where I could just relax and de-compress. That is also important to me. I was pursuing two things that I loved, but the combination of the two wasn’t particularly fulfilling for me. I suffered through that year. And when I look back, I wish I had taken my training load down a notch, and allowed time for other things in my life.

And even when I first made the move to racing professionally, I went full steam ahead. I restricted myself in every way I possibly could and was so focused on achieving greatness that I never came up for air. By July I was fried. I was emotionally done. And once the World Championships were over I let loose in a big way. I needed to because I hadn’t had any balance in my life for so long. I think a lot of us are victims of that.  We aren’t honest with ourselves about things we need in our lives and outlets for release; we limit ourselves and the end results in a blow up of some kind that ends in a negative situation, versus a positive and healthy one.  For myself, I needed to learn that lesson though to understand that sometimes succeeding (for me) means not holding on so tight.

Today, when I look at what is important to me – I really enjoy that random glass of wine at night with dinner, or my beloved ice cream for dessert. I love being spontaneous versus always planned and calculated. I love spending time with the people that I love. I love spending time on my own to just be in my own headspace and think – to not talk to anyone. I need these and other outlets in my life to stay healthy, stay happy, and also stay motivated in my job and be the best person I can be for those around me. Yes – there is a time and a place to restrict yourself from certain things or where we have to make difficult decisions. But in general – always asking yourself what is most important to you, and being diligent in remaining true to yourself – the outcome hopefully will be one of great reward.

8. What is your advice for people who are struggling to achieve life balance?

I suppose simply to be honest with yourself and recognize what things are most important to YOU as an individual to make you happy.  And then make that happen.  Perhaps it is a run every day.  Or 1 hour of alone time.  Or a weekend of partying once a month.  Or a massage once a week.  Or time with friends.  Or yoga – who knows.  Being in bed by 8 pm.  Just recognize what makes YOU happy and make time to include that in your life.  If you don’t, you’ll end up resenting your job, your family, your significant other, and you won’t be reaching your happiness potential.  Don’t be afraid to take time for yourself and be selfish in your needs.

Thank you Sarah for being so open. Your story is inspirational. Best of luck! I’ll check  in on your progress from time to time on your website http://sarahpiampiano.com/

Five Books For Overworked Corporate Moms

Mother’s day is almost here. Wondering what to get that career mom who is working all the time, and wishes she could have more time with the family without quitting her job? There is no reason why a woman can’t have a career she loves and at the same time a fulfilling home life. Here are five books that can make it happen.

  1. Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington. Huffington’s main message: there is more to life than getting promoted and making money. She argues that our well-being is a key third metric for living a successful life. Many women are in the habit of thinking of the needs of others (at both work and at home) before taking care of themselves.
  2. Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success by Madeline Levine. Teach is follow up to the Price of Privilege, in which Dr. Levine reminds parents that overworked kids from affluent parents are in trouble, with high rates of cutting, suicide, drug use, and have trouble with attachment to people. Dr. Levine’s main message is that values and coping skills are more important for a child’s long-term success than grades or a fat envelope.   In my experience, overworked parents have a tendency to put pressure on the kids to get into top schools and to overschedule their lives with activities. This is a thoughtful book full of solutions.
  3. Busting Your Corporate Idol: Self-Help for the Chronically Overworked by Dr. Greg Marcus explains the root cause of overwork, and offers a series of small actionable steps to work fewer hours and spend more time at family without consequences at work. Dr. Greg shares his personal experience of cutting his hours by a third without changing jobs, as well as many stories and anecdotes to illustrate how anyone can make a similar change.
  4. Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation–and Positive Strategies for Change by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. Main message: stacks of research and personal accounts from hundreds of women show that women don’t ask for what they need at home or at work. This book teaches what to ask for, how to overcome fears and guilt, and then teaches how to negotiate without being a jerk.
  5. Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois P. Frankel. Nice Girls is newly revised, and has been instrumental in changing the careers of several amazing women I know. Many of the same mistakes that limit a woman’s career, like avoiding politics, also will lead her to work longer hours. The more senior you are, the more leverage you will have to set your own schedule and boundaries.