Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Ray Rice: Defective NFL Product?

Janay Palmer & Ray Rice

Now wife, Janay Palmer and Raven’s suspended footlball player, Ray Rice

I’m on my home from the latest workshop by my coach Steve Harrison. Had a chance to meet Jack Canfield, author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Wow, what an amazing experience.

It was an interesting experience learning how better to serve people through writing and coaching against the backdrop of the Ray Rice story. My understanding is that abusive people were themselves abused. It is my hope that this incident can help Mr. Rice break the cycle of abuse, both for himself and for others.

I watched the video. It was very disturbing. If you haven’t seen it, I think you should watch it Ray Rice Knocked Out Fiancee – FULL VIDEO. It will change your understanding of domestic violence forever. It won’t be theoretical, and it won’t be Hollywood. It is brutal. Watching the video could help you change someone’s life some day. You might hear a whisper, or notice something in someone you know, and instead of brushing it off, you’ll remember that image of Jinay getting knocked unconscious.

As for why the NFL and the Ravens gave Rice a slap on the wrist before the video came to light? I am befuddled by the handwringing. The NFL is a business. Ray Rice is the product. The domestic violence wasn’t seen as a human issue, it was a business issue.  Rice was a product with some characteristics that would make some customers mad.

I’ve been in those discussions. The product isn’t working quite right. Should we ship?

“No product is ever done.”

“There is a work around.”

“We need the revenue now, and will pick up the pieces later.”

Right or wrong does not come into play when it comes to these product shipment decisions. They are business decisions. In the case of the NFL, the products are people. We need to remember to put people first, always.

As I write this post on the plane, I watched an inspirational speech from James Brown, football host on CBS. Brown explained that domestic violence is not a football issue, and is not a woman’s issue. He pointed out that 3 women die every day from domestic violence, and called on men to step up and take responsibility. “You need to either get help [for yourself] or give help [to end domestic violence.]

Bravo James Brown. Real men do not hurt women, and we’ll take your challenge to become part of the solution.

How To Avoid Burnout in 2014

businessman bending spoon by mind force

If you are fortunate enough to work in a healthy and collaborative environment, there still may be an imperative to work more hours.

In fact, when things are going well, and everyone is having a great time, there is a powerful wave of positive reinforcement for putting in more hours. The trill of accomplishment and the halo of success are the sugar buzz of the corporate world. While it lasts, nothing feels better. But what are you giving up outside of work to keep it going? Balance requires that we learn to say no, even if it feels good to say yes to more work.

If you work in a more typical environment, or one that shades towards the toxic and chaotic, you are at the mercy of changing deadlines and priorities that can be hard to resist. As much as we’d like to get away from the day-to-day firefighting, the inferno seems to be constantly raging around us. The key once again is learning to say no, in this case combined with a recognition that it is ok to let the fires burn.

In the 1970 movie Beneath Planet of the Apes, mutant humans have mental powers, and at one point project the illusion of fire to prevent the ape army from invading their territory. But one ape, the nefarious Dr. Zaius sees through the illusion, overcomes his fear, and rides right through the flames, at which point they disappear.

In a similar way, the intensity of the fires at work are an illusion, in that they project a fear that catastrophe awaits if we do not attend them. And how do we overcome an illusion? It takes a clear head, and the willingness to take a leap of faith. Give it a try – let a small one burn. Don’t check email one evening, and see what happens. If you keep trying to fight every fire, you’ll be the one who burns. And that is the truth.

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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How To Choose Between the Ski Vacation and the “Make or Break” Career Event?

Chapter 10: The People-First Life Part 1

My life is so much better since I busted my corporate idol and started putting people first.  But the challenges of life don’t go away. As this story illustrates, we live in overscheduled times.

Here I was, writing a book that advocates family over work, when I canceled our annual ski week vacation to attend the 2012 San Francisco Writer’s Conference. I felt bad about doing it, especially because we go with another family. But simplistic slogans like “family over work” are just another face of idolatry. Life is complicated, and sometimes there will be times when we decide to honor our career goals.

The word “canceled” above comes from my inner voice of guilt and doubt.  The reality is that I made the decision with the full support of my wife and friends, who understood how much the conference could help get the book out.  And with five months notice, we found another time to skiing, although it cost us a bit more.

A year later, I am faced with the same choice – The San Francisco Writer’s Conference always falls on Presidents Day Weekend. This year I picked the ski trip, even though from a career standpoint, I “need” the conference even more this year.  The book is almost complete, and the SFWC is full of sessions with freelance editors, designers, and others to help me self-publish “Busting Your Corporate Idol.” And I’m sad that I won’t get to spend time with so many other writers.

The fear, that I am missing a “make or break event” is palpable. But the rational part of my brain reminds me that the “make or break” feeling is just an illusion. I have other options to find resources for the book, and rescheduling the ski trip two years in a row would be just too much

I need to have faith that things will work out in the end. I’m sure they will, and I can’t wait to hit the slopes!

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Three Options If Your Personal Values Conflict With Company Culture

Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 2

Your company has a value system, more commonly called a corporate culture.  And as I wrote in Chapter 6,  unless you are the CEO and have carte blanch from the board to clean house, your chances of significantly changing company culture are close to zero. It can be dispiriting to feel that one has no control over the environment, which is why the illusion of control is so prevalent in the workplace.  There is a solution.

Holocaust Survivor Viktor Frankl wrote that “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”  Thankfully, the worst job imaginable is better than a concentration camp.  The lesson I take from Frankl is this: Having no control is not the same as having no choices. If your personal values are in conflict with the overriding corporate culture, you have three options:

  1. Change your values to match the corporate values. Remember, values are defined by how we act, not by what we aspire to.  Going along to get along equates to accepting the values of the organization.  I did plenty of this in my career, and wrapped it in rationalizations so that I didn’t feel guilty.  I don’t recommend this option, because eventually it will catch up with you.
  2. Leave the company.  Few people entertain this as a short-term solution, and often stay in unhappy situations longer than one would expect. I am lucky that I had the economic freedom to change careers.  The bills need to be paid, and leaving is not always feasible, and for many people is not the right solution.
  3. Use organizational savvy to force the organization to act in accordance with your values.  In other words, use the methods of power politics, financial forecasting, and alliance building to minimize or prevent actions that go against your values.

In the next post I’ll explain The Business Case For Good, which demonstrated how to use a forecast to make the company do the right thing.

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