Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Beware the Visionary in “Silicon Valley”

In the new HBO show Silicon Valley, Mike Judge sets his sights on, you guessed it, Silicon Valley. Judge is a comedic genius at nailing and exaggerating the small details. Who can forget “Is this best for the company?” from Office Space. In fact, its cousin “You Need to do What is Best For the Company” helped me recognize my corporate idolatry, and changed my life my life for the better. So it was with great excitement that I watched Silicon Valley. The show is about some nerds in a startup that suddenly gets hot. It started slowly, with a lavish party to celebrate someone selling their company for $100 million. Kid Rock performs, and the new millionaire toasts changing the world through better software hierarchy. Sounds like the valley I know. My favorite characters where the two visionaries who get in a bidding war for Richard’s super hot algorithm. Gavin Belson runs a company called Hooli, and at one point is asking his spiritual advisor why programmers always travel in clumps of five? Peter Gregory, a venture capitalist, gives a teary-eyed TED talk explaining why people should skip college and just go to work. HBO has put the show on YouTube for free. Ever work for a visionary? I worked in two companies run by

visionaries. In my first company, the president talked every Friday afternoon, and I was inspired. I loved the Kool-Aid. I’ll say this – he was genuine, and has a track record of founding companies that really have changed the world of healthcare. It was quite a shock for me when he left. It wasn’t soon before I thought this was a good thing, to let us get past vision and on to execution. Well, let’s just say that good execution cannot save a flawed business plan. But that didn’t stop those of us in the trenches from working like crazy through the never ending reorgs and new strategies. In my second company, we also had a visionary. I just didn’t realize it because he rarely spoke to us. It wasn’t until I had been there for five years that I realized that his vision began and ended with the widget he invented. Software, usability, robustness were not perceived as valuable. The company has super highs, which led to super lows as new technology came about to displace what they stubbornly stuck to. We wouldn’t have successful entrepreneurs if they were not visionaries, people who can see the world as it could be. But too often, the vision comes at a high cost to the people asked to carry it out. After all, the destination does not come with a map on how to get there. What do you think? Would you choose to work for a visionary? You might also like this post about a visionary CEO who was a nightmare to work for

The First Step To Create a Life of Balance

Work Over People

Work Over People

We live in overscheduled times. The company  demands that you do more with less, and rewards a job well done with more job. Or,  maybe you are passionate about what we do. The job brings fulfillment, which gives an incentive to work more hours. At some point, it will get to be too much. If you are starting to feel like Anakin Skywalker crawling out of the lava pit, this post is the first of three that will teach you how to put things right without becoming Darth Vader.

Step1: Secure Your Identity as a people-first person.

What is the most important thing in your life? As you think about your answer, look to your day-to-day decisions and priorities. Do you:

  • Skip workouts to catch up on email?
  • Eat lunch at your desk every day?
  • Check email or take a phone call when on a date or spending time with your kids?
  • Feel guilty when not working?

The type of behaviors indicate that you have made your company/work the most important thing in your life, because in the moment, you are choosing to work instead of focusing on your own health or being present with the people you care about. Identity is a shorthand way of making decisions without having to stop and think about them. We all have multiple identities – marketer, father, soccer coach, author are a few of mine. The question is, which identity is dominant?

A mindful shift to a people-first identity allows you to change your priorities and decisions day to day. Which is more important: giving yourself two hours to wind down before you go to bed, or answering every email? A people-first person shuts off the computer and phone two hours before bedtime no matter what. It’s not about saying no to the work, it’s about saying yes to sleep and people in your life.

If the cell phone beeps during dinner, which of these people is more likely to answer:

  1. The person whose identity rests on being the always available leader
  2. The person whose primary identity is as a caring and present father.

Who will make a better impression on a first date:

  1. The person who is answering text messages or
  2. The person who turns off the phone after the first beep?

Which person do you want handling a crisis at work that pops up at 10 AM:

  1. The person who spent the date answering text messages, and then went back home and worked till 1 AM, or
  2. The person who turned off the phone, made a real connection, and whose date when home with him/her?

Even if you love your job, strengthening your people-first identity will give you more resilience to deal with the ups and downs that come with any company. Why? Because you’ll have people there to catch you when you fall.

Next Post: The Second Step Towards a Life In Balance

How Corporate Idolatry Negates a Rich Life

I can’t tell you how many people told me to drop corporate idolatry from my book title.

“People don’t want to hear about religion at work.” Or “Idolatry is a mortal sin, and I’m offended that you associate my hard work with idolatry.”

The most common objection is this: “Idola-what? I can’t pronounce it.” As a ten-year marketer, you’d think that I’d jump to modify the message in response to this feedback. Except isn’t that what Coke did when they developed New Coke in the 80s?

Coke’s rival Pepsi had a famous advertising campaign, the Pepsi challenge. It was a blind taste test, and people overwhelmingly picked Pepsi over Coke. The Coke executives panicked, and developed New Coke, a sweet soda like Pepsi. It was a disaster. Everyone hated new coke. It turns out that in a one swallow test, Pepsi wins. But if you ask people to drink an entire glass, Coke wins.  Oops. You need to be careful on how you interpret the data, and not to put too much weight on only one data point.

In the case of corporate idolatry, when I explain to people that corporate idolatry is a metaphor for overwork, heads start to nod. When I explain in detail, as I will below, people either smile or scowl. It is not unusual for arguments to break out, or for a discussion to go on for thirty minutes. Along the way, we’ve covered issues like missing family events for work, or the fear of a backlash if you say “no” to the bosses’ last minute request. An idea that sparks a deep discussion about priorities and values, by people who normally don’t think about these issues, is something to hold on to.

An idea that sparks a deep discussion about priorities and values, by people who normally don’t think about these issues, is something to hold on to.

Have you ever heard a phrase like “you need to do what is best for the company?” Let me guess, it wasn’t in the context of giving a promotion, planning an office party, or giving everyone a week of extra vacation. We use the phrase “best for the company” to justify an action that is unpopular, like canceling a project, or a decision that is perhaps unethical, like shipping a product that you know will not meet customers needs.

Doing what is “best for the company” is not the same as doing “what is best.” Every time we say yes to a company request that results in long hours is a no to someone else in our life. I know for what I speak, for there was a time when I was working 90 hours a week, and I thought that I was a family first person. It was a sobering moment when I realized that you cannot be family first AND work 90 hours a week. For example, when my cell phone rang during dinner, I told my family I had an important call and left the table.

Doing what is “best for the company” is not the same as doing “what is best.”

Which brings me to the real reason why people don’t like the phrase corporate idolatry—it hits too close to home. It is far easier to complain about how hard we are working. It allows us to play the victim:

  • I didn’t have any choice.
  • The job market is really competitive, and I don’t know if I would even get an interview if I were to apply today.
  • I am having a big impact, and there is no one else who can do what I do.

This last point illustrates the most insidious thing about corporate idolatry is that it warps the way we see the world. We agree with the company’s definition of what is important, and we buy into illusions that are no more real than the belief that sacrificing a goat to a statue could make it rain.

The real reason why people don’t like the phrase corporate idolatry—it hits too close to home.

To accept corporate idolatry means that we are no longer the victim, but an agent making choices. I am choosing to answer the email that comes in at 10 PM. I am choosing to take the phone call during dinner. I am choosing to eat lunch at my desk instead of leaving the office and meeting a friend for lunch. I am choosing to be at the regional sales meeting in Europe instead of at home for my kid’s birthday.

Yes, recognizing corporate idolatry can be painful initially. But it also provides the path to a more balanced life. It opens the space to start putting people first. We choose not to answer the phone, or to accept the lunch invitation from a friend, even when a large deliverable is due the next day.

Just don’t tell your boss that the company is no longer the most important thing in your life. Instead, use your political skills to defer, delegate, or de-scope deliverable requests. No point getting burned at the stake just to make a point.

This post originally appeared on the blog Switch & Shift

What Does the Fox Say At Work?

What does the fox say? It’s a question 144 million plus have been asking on YouTube over the last few months. (And if you really want to know the answer, you can see it here.) The song describes what a fox looks like, and runs through a bunch of gibberish versions of what a sound the fox makes. Is it funny? Yes, a bit. (Although if you ask my tween daughters, they will tell you it is hilarious.)

When I hear the song, I think of a different kind of fox, the fox in Aesop’s fable the Fox and the Crow. This kind of Fox is a flatterer, someone who can convince you of anything. In this respect, the song “What Does the Fox Say” gets it right. When we are watching the video, we sing and laugh along, and we may even parrot what we hear to others. But if we stop and think about it, we say to ourselves Huh? It no longer makes any sense.

Have you ever had the experience at work of being talked into something that turned out to be really stupid, either for you or for the company? And then, the person who talked you into it is nowhere to be found. I write about the Fox in Busting Your Corporate Idol, because the consequences of trusting the untrustworthy are monumental.

The Fox is particularly dangerous, because he or she will say whatever you want to hear. The Fox is primarily out for him or herself, but unless you have dealt with this type of person before, you may not be aware.

I worked for years with a Fox, but didn’t know it until things got rough, and I was left holding the bag. In many respects, it was my bag to hold, BUT the Fox had advised me what to put in the bag, and where to carry it. So when the Fox went out of their way to point the finger at me, I wanted to cry fowl.

I stood up at a meeting to explain it all, and all that came out of my mouth was “Ring ding ding ding ding dingeringeding.” It made sense when the Fox said it to me. I should have known better.

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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