Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Just Realize Your Job Sucks? Here’s Why It Took So Long To Notice

Chapter 5: The Pivotal Role Of Circumstance Part 6

At the end of the last post, I suggested that excessive work hours could be a sign that someone is hiding from a bad relationship.  I would like to stress again, that being excited about your work and engaged with your company are good things.  Company engagement turns into Corporate Idolatry when work becomes the most important thing in your life at the expense of everything else.  Of course most of the time, the workplace is never all good or all bad.  As “Roger”, a VP in Silicon Valley put it

“It’s a very rare day when you look at your job and someone can say ‘this is awesome, everything is fantastic.’  No, there are lots of things in there that you’d like to change, but you have to take the whole package.The difficult part for Roger, and for many people is the change from good to bad can be very gradual.

At some point, I notice the scales have tipped.  It is not good enough and I have to move on.

But I wonder, how long does it take to notice that it is no longer good enough?  Many people who have left a negative circumstance say that the change was long overdue.  I’m sure there are many reasons for this, financial, emotional, social.  But I wonder if part of the issue is that it takes us a while to realize how bad things have gotten.  It turns out that we notice far less than we think we do.

From the book “The Invisible Gorilla” by Chabris and Simons I learned that we notice a lot less than we think we do.  Do you think you’d notice if the actor changed between two scenes of a short silent movie?  The new actor wore different clothes, different glasses and parted his hair on the opposite side. 70% of people think they would notice the change, but in reality no one did.[i]  Zip, zero.  If enough of the details are consistent, and we are not expecting a change, the discontinuity fails to register.  And when people were warned in advance, it was obvious and everyone saw it.[ii]

I think changes at work can happen in a similar way.  We don’t notice the changes as they are happening, and over time things can change pretty dramatically.  And when we are stressed and overworked, it is hard to notice anything.

In the next post, we’ll meet someone who wanted to be the one to bring the company back after both the market and the culture turned sour.

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[i] The Invisible Gorilla  And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons.  (2010) Crown p55-57.  These are examples of the illusion of memory and change blindness.

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.

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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.

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