Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

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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You might also like: Bags Packed and Ready To Lead

What You Can Learn From Black Swans, Forecasting, and Idolatry

Chapter 9 Paint Your Environment Part 8

In this chapter I’ve told several stories about forecasting, because so many dysfunctional companies live and die by the forecast because they can’t seem to agree on anything else they stand for.  I am drawn to the topic because it reminds me of an extensive commentary by the medival Jewish philosopher known at the Rambam which is shorthand for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, (AKA) Maimonides.

The Rambam argued that soothsaying, fortune telling, divining and related “black arts” are forms of idolatry perpetuated by unscrupulous leaders as a means to control other people by fear. The Rambam said that “It is not fitting for the Jews who are wise sages to be drawn into such emptiness. ”[i]  To put it in a more kindly and general context, he was saying that educated people should know better.

In a similar way, I think that people in the business world should know better than to blindly follow forecasts or other business means of predicting the future, which is exactly what Professor and former hedge fund manager Nassim Nicholas Taleb argues in his book The Black Swan.  Taleb, like the Rambam, marvels that people seem to ignore the terrible track record of those who routinely predict the future and get it wrong.

Taleb uses the example of the black swan as a metaphor.  For hundreds of years, bird experts said that Black Swans do not exist, because one had never been seen. Which was true until Europeans reached Australia, and found them in plenty.  Taleb shows that financial analysts have a terrible track record at predicting the future – they are no better than someone who looks just at the last quarter’s data and extrapolates.  In fact, the analysts tend to follow the herd, and are unlikely to make predictions that are outliers.[ii]  But the biggest events that change history, like September 11 or the Arab Spring are almost never predicted.

If the wall street experts can’t get it right, what chance has the average forecast in an average company?

You might be wondering what this has to do with your quest for a more balanced life. There is a right and wrong way to use forecasts.  Taleb suggests that forecasts are a good way of charting possible outcomes, what is a potential large seller, but the actual outcome can’t be predicted, which is why every company should have a diversified portfolio of high risk and safer projects.  (And why a one-trick pony startup is inherently risky.)  But many companies, (like Sabina’s),  even if they have the proper portfolio mix, act as if the forecast is a real prediction of the future.

Companies with too much emphasis on forecasting and making the numbers have a higher risk of an idolatry prone culture, that devalues people as individuals. And Sabina allowed forecasting to have too large an impact on her self-esteem.

Someone looking for balance in a numbers first environment has a few options.  1. Play the politics to gain the power to set your own boundaries.  2. Take a lower profile product or project that will bring lower stress.  3. Become an expert at sandbagging the forecast.

Another option, which I will explore in the next post, is to find another company with a different, longer term and more flexible approach to doing business.

What is your experience with forecasts and numbers-first cultures?

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[i] Mishneh Torah Volume 3: Hilchot Avodat Kochavim. By MaimonidesEdited by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger.  Moznaim, (1990) P.212-213

[ii] The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Random House (2007) p 148-150.

 

Advice For Singles On Work-Life Balance

My Corporate Idolatry Time Profile

Chapter 8: Build Your Community Part 4

One question I have gotten from readers is this: Greg, I’m single.  The suggestions to spend more time with family don’t apply to me.   I’m on my own, and my work is what I have.  What can I do?

To begin my answer, I’ve included the Corporate Idolatry Time Profile to the left.  Working too many hours squeezes out the opportunity to do other things in life.  Building a community is particularly important if you are single because we all need people to support our change in priorities.  And the most reliable way to be happy is to spend time with friends.

The first step is to leave the office.  “George,” a Silicon Valley Business development and strategy executive did just that, in an effort to give himself the opportunity to meet new people.  Here is how he describes the experience.

“You never know what that [new person or thing will be], but you’re not going to find it staying two more hours staring at your spreadsheet.  Part of it is chance encounters, and so you are not going to create new parts of your life unless you have the opportunities to encounter new places or new foods or new people or people from your past.  If you limit your chances of encountering those things, in a sense you only have yourself to blame.  By sending the hours from 6pm to 10pm working on your spreadsheet you are vastly limiting the hours where you can discover new things about yourself.”

What opportunities are there in your life for chance encounters that may lead to community?

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You might also like this post from the archives:  Treat a Community Opportunity Life a Career Opportunity

 

Life Lessons From Abraham: The CEO Of a Startup Religion

Chapter 7: Secure Your Identity Part 15

Abraham was raised in ancient Sumeria, a world where the dominant culture was pagan.  Gods were everywhere, from Anu the sky god, to regional gods, to small amulets and magic charms that were a big part of everyday life.  Abraham’s cause was not simply a matter of a single divinity- it was a completely different way of life. And if we look at the number of followers as a scorecard, I think he was onto something.  According to the Big Religion Comparison Chart, there are 14 Million Jews, 2 Billion Christians and 1.3 billion Muslims on the planet, all of whom look at Abraham as the father of monotheism.   For those of us looking to bust  our modern idols, there is a lot we can learn from Abraham.

For Abraham, monotheism was not an abstract, metaphysical question about the number of deities.  Abraham was the CEO of a start up religion, and he was looking to change the world.  He had an unshakable identity and powerful personality that attracted followers.  And like any good startup CEO, he could lay out a vision and make others believe.  By intellectual reasoning, Abraham showed that something created by man should not become the object of worship.  For Abraham, there was one creator who put forth rules of right and wrong that did not change.  This was very different than the pagan world, where right and wrong changed depending on the deity, and is also different than the corporate world, where right and wrong behavior is defined by corporate culture.

As I argued in Chapter 2, the universal values are The Golden Rule tempered by The Rule of Self Preservation.  In the next post, we’ll look at the limitations of Abraham’s identity-based approach to change.

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