You Can’t Balance Your Life By The Decade

I recently ran across an awesome New York Times editorial by Erin Callan, who was the CFO of Lehman Brothers in 2008 (she had the foresight/luck to resign a number of months before the financial crisis brought down the firm):

In particular, I’d like to draw your attention to two passages:

“I didn’t start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job. It
crept in over time. Each year that went by, slight modifications became
the new normal. First I spent a half-hour on Sunday organizing my
e-mail, to-do list and calendar to make Monday morning easier. Then I
was working a few hours on Sunday, then all day. My boundaries slipped
away until work was all that was left.”

Sound familiar?  This kind of creeping workaholism is endemic in the startup world; just tonight, my wife noted that I was so absorbed in my reading that I failed to acknowledge when she asked me a question (I was reading the Keith Rabois Twitter exchange about blogging entrepreneurs).

No one is going to maintain the boundaries between your work and the rest of your life other than you and your immediate family.  You and you alone have to take responsibility for making this balance work.

“Sometimes young women tell me they admire what I’ve done. As they see
it, I worked hard for 20 years and can now spend the next 20 focused on
other things. But that is not balance. I do not wish that for anyone.
Even at the best times in my career, I was never deluded into thinking I
had achieved any sort of rational allocation between my life at work
and my life outside.”

I find this passage both touching and instructive.  Back when I worked for D. E. Shaw, one of my mentors told me that of all the people he knew who said, “I’ll work for Wall Street for 10 years, then retire and do my thing,” none of them ever did.

You can’t balance your life by the decade because the actions you take change you, even if you don’t realize it.  Callan seems to have been more self-aware than most, yet even she ended up trapped in a situation of her own making.

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