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Former Lehman CFO Erin Callan wrote a chilling Op-Ed for The New York Times, Is There Life After Work?, where she says she regrets putting work before family, friends and, ultimately, herself.She’s living proof of why people need to protect their work-life balance.
Callan was once one of Wall Street’s most powerful women before being forced out of her job and Lehman collapsed in 2008. She says she went about achieving success all wrong, and “Inevitably, when I left my job, it devastated me. I couldn’t just rally and move on. I did not know how to value who I was versus what I did. What I did was who I was.”
When she was CFO, Callan was a fixture in the media for overcoming gender barriers on Wall Street, but she says that it wasn’t worth it in the end:
“I have often wondered whether I would have been asked to be C.F.O. if I had not worked the way that I did. Until recently, I thought my singular focus on my career was the most powerful ingredient in my success. But I am beginning to realise that I sold myself short. I was talented, intelligent and energetic. It didn’t have to be so extreme. Besides, there were diminishing returns to that kind of labour.”
Other professionals have come to the same conclusion.
A few months ago, famous advertising executive Linds Redding wrote a chilling account of the toll his work took on his life on his death bed: “So was it worth it? Well of course not. It turns out it was just advertising. There was no higher calling.”
Which brings up a crucial point. There’s nothing wrong with pure ambition, and there are certainly times in life to put in more hours than others. But throughout, it’s important not to neglect things that will keep you healthy and sustain you later in life.
In his book, “How Will You Measure Your Life?” business guru Clay Christensen says that too often, people prioritise work above all else early in their careers, with plans to focus on family and their health later. But by then, he argues, it’s already too late.
Hitting this balance is a huge struggle. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg famously leaves the office at 5:30 PM, and other executives like Richard Branson have spoken about how important it is to find meaning in your work, and also have a life outside of work. Research shows that happier employees are more productive employees.
But at the end of the day, you’ve got to make the decision for yourself, and work at a place where your personal values align with your company’s values.
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