Have you read Sheryl Sandberg‘s 2013 book Lean In? Here’s some of her advice about balance and burn-out.
In 1994 Sandberg interned at the Washington D.C. office of McKinsey & Company when Larry Kanarek managed the office. Since Kanarek conducted all the exit interviews, he discovered over time that people quit for one reason only: burn-out. They were done with working long hours and traveling for more hours. What baffled Kanarek was that every single person who was leaving had unused vacation time. Sandberg says “Up until the day they left, they did everything McKinsey asked of them (then decided) that it was too much.” (Lean In, 2013, p. 126)
YOU MAKE YOUR OWN BALANCE
Sandberg says Kanerak went back to his employees and beseeched them to “exert more control over their careers. He said McKinsey would never stop making demands on our time, so it was up to us to decide what we were willing to do. It was our responsibility to draw the line. We needed to decide how many hours we were willing to work in a day and how many nights we were willing to travel. If later on, the job did not work out, we would know that we had tried on our own terms.
Counterintuitively, long-term success at work often depends on not trying to meet every demand placed on us. The best way to make room for both life and career is to make choices deliberately – to set limits and stick to them.” (emphasis added)
1994 ADVICE PERFECT FOR TODAY
That says that in 1994 Mr. Kanarek advised women and men to take the situation into their own hands and choose deliberately. I appreciate that word “deliberately”. I use it a lot in coaching to remind people to choose, yes, but more than that, to deliberate on the choice and the cost to be paid – to ponder, to speculate, to deeply consider, to study and think thoroughly about, but also to think in a leisurely and gradual way, not hastily or emotionally, before choosing. Only when you have deliberated can you say you chose deliberately, which Webster defines as “carefully, unhurriedly, done on purpose“.
THE “BUT’S” AND “WHAT’S” ATTACK
I know what you’re saying. As soon as you try to exert control, you mind answers “But if I keep putting in the hours, I might make (general manager, partner, program manager, Queen of the Universe) in only about 3 years, I think.” (You “hope” is more like it.)
Or you hear in your head, “What if I cut back hours and then I’m miserable about being passed over?”
THE ANSWER TO THE “BUT’S” AND “WHAT’S”
There are so many more answers to the attacks on your thinking than “head down, work long hours marching off into the dark”. To begin with, the attacks broke in on your deliberations. We’re not going to allow that.
When the attacks broke in on your deliberation, they made you afraid. Made you afraid of the future, which is quite a trick since no one knows which future will happen. But moreover, the attacks made you afraid of yourself. The attacks made you afraid to take ten minutes, sit down somewhere quiet, maybe with a doodle pad, breathe quietly, and deliberate on your choices, the costs, and the way you’re going to choose.
You already know so many of the answers; you already know you can
- choose the work path that proves what you value in your life
- choose whether, after 3 or 4 or 5 years of endless hours, you want to be the Program Manager known for putting in and demanding 80-hour weeks (or even 60)
- increase your self-control: make sure you’re actually working during the hours you devote to work, make sure you ruthlessly and relentlessly root out distractions, and see if you can do fewer hours now and later. Adopt some new favorite productivity hacks
There are many, many more answers for you, but you will not be able to put together your personal menu of balance and controls unless you deliberate and decide deliberately, that is, decide on purpose. So much about the self-awareness and resilience we’ve talked about here comes into play now.
So, say “thank you, I’ll get back to you” to the attacks. Take yourself somewhere quiet and take a doodle pad. Take a couple breaths and smile. You’re going to be deliberate. You are going to choose on purpose. It’s hardest the first time, and it gets easier. Please, will you do this?