Professional success for a severe personal blow? DeFacto asks some hard hitting questions on the work life balance. Are the long hours at the office really worth it in the end?
David Brooks’ Op-Ed in the New York Times titled, “The Sandra Bullock Trade” became the most e-mailed article within twenty-four hours of its publication. Brooks’ Op-Ed is probably most applicable to those in the legal and the banking industry, especially in a market like India where lawyers and bankers are cranking through the night to get the never-ending business deals done for their clients. Brooks’ Op-Ed starts with the following para, “Two things happened to Sandra Bullock this month. First, she won an Academy Award for the best actress. Then came the news reports claiming that her husband is an adulterous jerk. So the philosophic question of the day is: Would you take that as a deal? Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?” Brooks further writes, “Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.”
I could not think of a better audience than the lawyers for this topic. While you are on your way to become that next quoted lawyer in the Chambers Global for 2015, your family life may be slowly going south. Nowadays we spend most of our time with our office colleagues and clients, more than our wife and children. Our work has become our life, and our blackberries determine our next course of action. It is such a cool thing in the corporate world to say that you worked all weekend. Really? Is that why we joined this profession? Professional triumph is definitely important – it can buy you and your family the comfort that personal accomplishments cannot afford, but professional triumph may not be worth it at the cost of our family. It is easy to be a part of the corporate culture and follow the lead of the growing market and continue to burn the mid-night oil, but there will come a time when you will wish that you had done things differently than spending sixteen hours a day sitting in front of that computer.
It is a well-known fact that divorce rates are one of the highest amongst lawyers around the globe, and this fact does not surprise most of us. We just accept it and move ahead calling them ‘facts of life’. Divorce rates amongst lawyers have affected many families in the U.S., and more importantly the children. A lot of children from broken homes unfortunately have many psychological problems and there are enough research studies to back that. It is a common illusion that you can provide the best for your children and family by making more money. You can send them to the best schools, afford a tutor for private coaching, provide the best accessories and tools for them to get to their desired goal, best environment with a nice air-conditioned house, car, etc. Yes, these are desirable and definitely helpful, but are they going to make your children the happiest people in the world? Ask yourself this question; would you want to see your children as professionally successful, but personally miserable or simply unhappy? This is the Sandra Bullock Trade that Brooks talks about. I think the answer to this for most of us is pretty simple – No!
The question then becomes - what do we do to get away from this crazy work life? And, I think it is all up to each one of us. We advice our clients on how to effectively communicate their part of the deal on 24/7 basis, but never bring that practice into our lives. If you have not, it is time to communicate your preferences and priorities to your superiors, colleagues and clients. It is a slow process – you don’t have to write a broadcast e-mail to everyone about the life you want to lead, but you can start somewhere with the people you closely work with. It is about letting others know what is important to you. I am sure you know those people in your office who communicate their preferences and manage to get away from work earlier than you – we can assume that they are doing well for themselves. Most likely, they are happier on their personal front and making almost the same amount of money as others - if we consider money earned being one of the indicators of professional triumph. Our boss and colleagues may not appreciate all of our personal values the next day, but with time they will understand and respect us for the same.
If you tried communicating your values and preferences, and your colleagues and superiors over time have not understood or respected them, may be it is time for you to move to another work place –there are plenty of people in the legal world who value their family and will understand you. I am sure you have questioned yourself plenty of times on how you should deal with this issue. It is all in communicating to those whom you work with. I think another way to communicate is to make your family meet your superiors and your colleagues – I know this may sound crazy but it may work. Knowing your family may help your cause – it creates some kind of guilt in that bossy superior to let you go and spend sometime with people who you value the most. Be tactful and find ways to communicate to the people you work with, and I believe you will move far ahead in the years to come.
If you have not taken that step and have been dying to, now is the time. I leave you with a famous quote that we all have used at some point in our lives, “where there is a will, there is a way,” and it is time to bring that quote to practice. If you really want to find that way, you will find it slowly, but surely.