“You have to draw the lines” and some other thoughts


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 .

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13 thoughts on ““You have to draw the lines” and some other thoughts

  1. Nicely put Vijay. So true that It takes a lot to say ‘No’. I can’t agree more with your ‘comparison’ points. Imp is not ‘how better you are doing with others’ But ‘with yourself’.

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  2. Excellent article , Vijay. While its tough not to compare with others, I liked the idea that only way you can benchmark is against yourself. To make sure that we are better since yesterday, more wiser 🙂

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  3. Excellent blog Vijay and like you and Jarret I can relate to much of this lifestyle. I am a bit further behind than both of you guys, but I have been evaluating what I do and how much I do over the last year or so. Right now I am writing another book and it is a real soul crusher. It will be my last. I am also aiming to slow down my travel professionally as my wife and I love to travel and doing both is a toxic mix.

    I think it’s inevitable to go through this work-work balance before the work-life balance if you want to be a high achiever and build a career. I know that both you and Jarret have invested significantly in your professional life but are now reaping those rewards without having to break the physical and psychological bank. You are both people I look up to and I hope I can follow in both of your footsteps much more closely in the work-life balance than I can professionally 🙂

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  4. Great article Vijay and one that strikes a real nerve with me personally as I got a similar perspective about 2 years ago and as someone that has been through 30+ SAP/SF Go-Lives, “was” a road warrior and have 2 kids I can you that work/life balance is something that can be a challenge at times but definitely possible if you work at it.

    I made a major transition about 2 years ago as I was on a very rough project implementing a poor SAP OnPremise offering, part of huge team with a big SI (as an independent contractor) and a challenging customer. It was a toxic mix and for the first time I wasn’t enjoying consulting. It just so happened that we had a summer family vacation planned and after walking down the beach for a week, talking to my wife, spending some real quality time with my kids and doing some soul searching I realized that even though it was a great financial opportunity it was not a good opportunity for me personally at at the same time life as a road warrior was wearing thin. My wife and I had always talked that once our kids were 5 I would get off the road and they were 7 and 6 at the time.

    I had a couple remote clients so I just enjoyed the summer, spent tons of time with the family/kids and it continued to reinforce that I didn’t want to travel as much (had been traveling between 12-15 days a month for the past 15 years). I decided to dive into SuccessFactors and got 3 certifications as was easy to see that is where things were headed in HR Technology + I liked the work/life balance many of the opportunities had (mostly remote). Fast forward 2 years later, and my business is as strong as it has ever been, I am traveling under 30 nights a year, and have missed very few baseball/soccer practice/games either :-). It is definitely the work/life balance that I want at this stage of my career as your kids only grow up once.

    It is often hard for people to relate to the burden of consulting travel over may years + all the changes in our industry + trying to balance with younger kids/family as it is not easy but I can say without a doubt that the road warrior lifestyle is one I am not planning to go back to.

    I also have gotten a lot better at saying no and although it is flattering to be asked to attend and speak at a conference, or take on every customer that reaches out I realize that each comes with a sacrifice that I am less and less willing to take. That said if I had to do it all over I would have done the same things as some of those choices, risks, hard work set me up to be in a situation to make some of the choices that I want today so lucky in that respect.

    Again….when a comment is as long as the blog you know it was good (at least for me) 🙂

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