Jon Reed wrote an excellent article on work life balance http://diginomica.com/2015/08/21/pulling-truth-from-the-viral-absurdity-of-the-amazon-workplace-debate/ and that prompted some thoughts in my mind based on my own work and life over the last two decades.
There are two simple principles in life that keep me sane when I follow them both religiously. And when I don’t follow them , it invariably screws me over
1. We have to draw lines when it comes to how we want to lead our lives . If we don’t do that, someone else will draw it for us and we won’t always like it – in fact most times we will hate it .
2. There will always be some people smarter and luckier than us . We have to make peace with that quickly and not let it drive us nuts every day
Work life balance is just one example for this . I have a job that needs me to travel most weeks . If I don’t draw a line – I could easily be traveling every day of the week , all year , for my employer’s business . So I do draw reasonable lines and try to be home as much as I can . In the process of drawing these lines , I might lose out on some opportunities and the price to pay for that might be high. What often makes it hard is that we have to draw these lines without perfect data . But if I don’t draw that line – I won’t have a life outside work at all.
In my job, I spend a lot of time negotiating with customers, partners and my own colleagues . One of the golden rules of negotiations is that “they will keep asking till you say no”. Saying no doesn’t come naturally to me . But if I don’t say no when required , then I can’t fairly complain when I am asked to do things that I don’t like . So I learned to say No and it helps a lot in managing my life on my terms . This is true outside work too.
Then there are the people who think being difficult is a badge of honor . In reality, it’s exactly the opposite . Being easy to work with is much harder than being difficult . If you want to be easy to work with, you need to make principled compromises on the fly . Being difficult is just an easy way to buy more time to make decisions . It slows things down and then no one will want to work with you any way. Being easy to work with comes at a high risk and it could be taken as a sign of weakness by some . But when you can combine being easy to work with AND the ability to draw lines when required , you will get somewhere you like .
I have always worked with a lot of over achievers . It is hard to not compare myself from time to time with them. There are many who are significantly more successful than me in any dimension I choose to compare – money , how fast they progressed in their career, how big is their house – or pretty much anything at all. It’s partly good fodder for motivating me to try harder , but for the most part it just made me miserable . Then I realized that there are two aspects that I am not considering
1. They might be better at one dimension – like say they made it to executive ranks sooner than I did . But they have also paid a price for that – like sacrificing on quality time with family . Some chose to not marry or not have kids , unlike me . I wanted a family and when I add that to the framework, I no longer felt like an under achiever .
2. There are always elements of luck, risk taking ability and intelligence that they may have that I have no control over whatsoever . So why stress over that at all ?
This perspective is not something I have had all my life . I got it while I took a time out between my last job and my current job . It just made me realize that the only way to do a meaningful comparison is to see if I am better today than I was yesterday . Words cannot explain how peaceful I felt when I came to that conclusion . I just needed to get off the hamster wheel before I could get that clarity in my mind .
I will stop this with one last thought . If we don’t keep skills sharp , and keep learning all the time – our ability to say no will decrease at an alarming rate . And at a certain level , it might get to a stage where you cannot make peace with it . So it’s in our own best interests to stay relevant .