Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Discover the Downside To The Dream Job

Chapter 5: The Pivotal Role Of Circumstance Part 12

In the last post, we talked Mary’s excitement in her first job out of grad school working for a small, rapidly growing company. They quickly established a dominant position in the market, and it had a “familyish” atmosphere.

Describing herself at the time, Mary laughs. “I was very green.”

For Mary and many others, the President was the embodiment of the company. He was charismatic, smart, and visionary. In monthly company meetings, he would lay out his inspiring vision for how the company was going to change the world, and when he spoke, it was almost impossible not to give him your full attention.
At a scientific conference, the President once riveted a room of top scientists with an inspirational talk about a friend of his with cancer, who was receiving the same nasty chemotherapy treatment that had been used for 30 years. “We need to make sure that 30 years from now, there are better options available.”
More importantly, he made an effort to say people’s names and say hello in the hallway. Mary describes her memory of the President.

“He was almost a father figure, an uncle. He fostered a love of the company, you felt that you belonged.”

So to recap, Mary was in her first position out of graduate school, at a small company with exciting products that were successful in the marketplace, which was led by a charismatic, visionary leader.  In many ways, it was a dream job.

This is the second draft of this post, and the question I got to the first one was: dude, what’s the problem with having   a dream job?  You make it sound like she was doing something wrong.

No, she did nothing wrong.  Anyone in that circumstance would have been very devoted to the company.  But remember a few posts ago?  Mary later described herself as “thirty, single, and killing herself for the company.”  Ultimately, she found the dream job unfulfilling because she was alone.

So can the job ever be enough?  In other words, if you have your dream job, will that bring happiness and fulfillment if it is the best thing in your life. A dream job is a wonderful thing.  But if you are not ok without the dream job, you won’t be ok with it either.  People are happy when they have connections to other people.

<<Previous Post  Next Post>>

Why Was the Vice President Crying Every Morning?

Chapter 6: The Role Of Circumstance Part 7

She was in the midst of a successful career. She was the rock holding everyone together at work.  She’d moved up through the ranks to Vice President.  And she was crying every morning, and sneaking off to the ladies room during the day to nurse horrible migraines.

It wasn’t always that way.  “Sue” arrived at the company as a senior product manager.  “It was hard but fun.  Everyone was working towards the same goals, and to this day the core group [of us] remain friends.  We made some kick-ass software.”  For five years, the company did well,  and her career prospered.  But then things changed.

“The management team fell apart, the strategy started to shift and the company wasn’t doing as well.  There was a big panic. A lot of us wanted it to be like it was.  I wanted to be the one to bring it back.  There was a nagging voice in back of the head telling me it was too far gone.  I kick myself for working myself to death, giving up my free time on weekends, perusing my hobbies, [not] spending time with my spouse.”

I asked Sue if she would have stayed if there had not been the good times first.  She laughed.  “No, I would have bailed.  [In hindsight,] I had an obligation to do a good job, but I did not have an obligation to give up all of my free time to the company.”

In Chapter 8: Build Your Community, we will visit Sue again to see how she remained in the corporate world and rebalanced her life. Read it here.

Today, a big buzzword I see is employee engagement. Was Sue an engaged employee?

<<Previous  Next>>

If There Isn’t Love At Home, Is It Easier To Love Your Work?

Chapter 5: The Pivotal Role Of Circumstance Part 5

In the previous post, we met Alan who loved his work and enjoyed the long hours because he felt aligned with the company and was making a difference.  Then, Alan described his family life. “I would go home, have dinner, and then the CEO would call me to re-hash strategy.”  (This was in the pre-internet dark ages of the mid-90s.)  “The CEO later asked if my divorce was from job stress.  It wasn’t.  I was working hard, but that is not what caused marriage to crumble.”

I pressed a bit, because I was skeptical when he said “no.”  Here it was, the “work ruined my marriage” story.  But life is a bit more complicated; it was other things

And after interviewing several people who also worked long hours and then got divorced, I actually think the opposite was true.  In my opinion, he was working long hours because he was in an unhappy marriage.

Let me be clear – I am not saying that everyone who is putting long hours in at work is doing so because they are in a troubled relationship.  I used to work very long hours, and while it put a strain on my family, I don’t think it ever jeopardized the marriage.  But what I am saying is that it is worth some reflection as to why one would choose to work over spending time with your family.  Sometimes in times of stress, work can be a haven, especially when things are going well.

<<Previous  Next>>

When Is “Changing the Market Landscape” Just An Illusion?

Chapter 5: The Pivotal Role Of Circumstance Part 2

I started the chapter with a story about craps, and ended by saying that craps and the workplace have a lot in common in that in both cases we are in less control than it seems.

Funny thing about craps, the game is random, but it can seem like you have control, especially after a few of those free drinks.  And in fact, studies by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer have shown that people act as if how they throw the dice has an impact on the outcome, making soft throws for low numbers and hard throws for high numbers.  This is an example of what Langer calls the illusion of control – “the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events that they demonstrably have no control over.

According to Langer, the illusion of control arises in recurring situations when routine behaviors in the mind become correlated with a particular outcome.  A person who’s routine includes one or more of the following is particulary susceptible to the Illusion of Control: [1]

  • Choice
  • Competition
  • Familiarity with the activity
  • Involvement in decisions

Now, lets look at what “Patrick” the vice president of development has to say about managing to the big picture.  (I should add that I think Patrick is a Wolf.  From talking to him and others he works with, he is definitely not a Fox.  See this post for an explanation.)

“It’s a best practice to say that [the work will have a large impact.]  But if people can’t see reality beyond the words, it can be counter productive.  To say we are changing the landscape of the market is a stretch when our competitor has 80% market share.  The reality is that we are going to try to get market share.  It’s less exciting, but it reflects reality better.”

Do any words stand out as you read this?  He never says illusion, but he sure says reality a lot!

<< Previous  Next >>

How Is Going To Work Like a Craps Game?

Vintage doctors swag by woodleywonderworks via Flickr CC

Chapter 5: The Pivotal Role Of Circumstance: Hot Tables & Bad Breaks Part 1

Here is my personal story that starts Chapter 5:

Before my first trip to Atlantic City a fellow graduate student at MIT gave me advice on how to win at craps: ‘Find a hot table.  When the table stops being hot, wait for another hot table.’  I’ll be damned if it didn’t work, for the most part. I had an amazing series of rolls.  Everyone was cheering and this older guy in a brown leather jacket kept slapping me on the back every time I made a point.  I remember the feeling of pure elation like it was yesterday.  Before long the table turned, and it was really hard to stop playing.  About an hour later I walked by the table again.  It was empty.  The guy in the leather jacket was walking away, his hands in his pockets and his eyes vacant.  It was 20 years before I saw another table that hot.”

The probability experts are all over this type of thing, and they can tell you how much is luck, and which bets maximize the chance of winning.  The odds of rolling for 30 minutes without losing can in fact be calculated, and will in fact occur from time to time.  If you happen to be playing a hot table you are in for a great time because everyone is winning at that table.  Of course a hot table is very much an exception – most of the time there will be a mixture of winning and losing, where the only control you have is whether to play, and which bets to make.

In my experience, going to work is a lot like a craps game.  The day may go really well, or really badly, with most of the time somewhere in between.

And like a craps game, there are times when we feel like we are making it happen, when in reality things are beyond our control.

<<Previous  Next>>