You have probably met corporate people who are five to ten years from retirement and have remained in their bottom-of-the-ladder “contributor” roles (as engineers, programmers, accountants, salespersons, etc.) for decades. Don’t they typically report to managers 10 to 15 years their juniors? Ever wonder why they never assumed managerial or leadership roles? Are they simply incompetent or unenthusiastic? Enquire around and you may be surprised to learn that they may have perhaps never desired to climb the corporate ladder. You will possibly learn that,
- They are not aimless. In reality, at some point in their careers, they made a conscious choice to not pursue the traditional career advancement paths and stay in their roles as “senior contributors.” Their dominant priorities lie elsewhere: usually with family, community, faith, and creative interests. They view their careers as means to other ends. They set goals for what they seek to achieve, create a plan, and relate to their values in the right way, everyday.
- They are quite influential in their organizations. They gain credibility not by virtue of positions or titles, but from years of experience, awareness of processes and historical perspectives. They seek to mentor young engineers and offer their opinions and judgments when consulted by management. They gain an immense sense of satisfaction by helping their organizations grow. They are widely respected.
- Their salaries are quite comparable to people who have identical spans of service in their organizations and have assumed leadership roles. They are highly valuable contributors.
The “senior contributors” are not the only ones who have shunned the corporate ladder. Many women choose to work three days a week once they have kids. Husbands of career-minded moms have relinquished their rewarding careers to become stay-at-home dads and support their wives’ careers. Frequently, executives decline international assignments that could keep them away from family. All these people tend to feel in command of their life and career—they are more contented in their careers and have a stronger sense of work-life balance. For sure, they can teach the rest of us a thing or two about setting the course of our lives.
The long-hours culture is not for everybody
You probably recollect the days when corporate people had reasonably secure jobs, showed up at work every workday, clocked in, worked eight hours, clocked out, stopped thinking about work until the next workday, and enjoyed four weeks of vacation a year. They could maintain a healthy separation between work and personal time. Alas, those days are long over.
In today’s workplace, the demands on our energy, time, and creativity constantly overwhelm us, despite access to technology, computers, and other productivity tools. We have so much on our plates that we only rarely complete things WHEN and AS we would wish to. The workday is longer, the pace of work is faster, and most projects tend to be open-ended. The pressure to learn new skills is prominent. A successful corporate career demands a high-level of performance for sustained periods. At what cost, though? Unsurprisingly, the pressure to work harder and longer results in poor physical health, stress, anxiety, lesser time with family and friends, fewer opportunities to pursue hobbies and creative interests, and insufficient rest and relaxation.
Work or life or both—its your choice
“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
* Henry David Thoreau
There is no magic potion or canned method for balancing your work and life. Finding balance is rather an exercise in finding a healthy perspective that works for you. Nobody but you can make the right choices and work out what is best for you to bring about a sense of satisfaction of physical, mental, financial, intellectual, professional, and social well-being.
Everyone has to find his or her own individual balance
The quest for work-life balance begins with defining what balance means to you. Reflect on what you value most in life and prioritize them. Include your family in your contemplations of choices and consequences. Establish a set of boundaries between an adequate amount of effort and return. Consider your personal and professional aspirations, the family and social life you desire, your hobbies and interests and your goals and dreams.
Ask yourself, “How much is adequate?” and, “How much success and money is good enough?” Set boundaries and limits between what you must do and what you want to achieve in the short term and in the long term. The choices you make and your ability to respect the limits your set for yourself should shape your work and career, not the other way around.
Explore alternate arrangements at work
After you reflect on what could constitute a sense of individual balance for you, examine your career objectives. Once you are clear about what you want, consider the potential consequences to your employer. Discuss your options and proposals with a trusted advisor, the human resources / personnel department, and your boss. Most companies care for their employees enough to offer options for part-time or flexible schedules, working from home or sabbaticals.
Lead a life to your own script, not to others’
The world will shape your life, if you let it. Establish what you want to achieve in your life; do not let others impose their proposals for you. Make the right choices and live true to your values. This is, in essence, the key to finding the illusive work-life balance.