Sunday, February 22, 2015

There is no balance, its only trade-offs

In my reading for my "Managing Growing Enterprises" class this quarter I came across the following quote by a CEO who attended the Harvard Business School "New CEO Workshop":

"There is no work-life balance. There are only work-life trade-offs."

With my time at the GSB coming to an end that quote actually made me think. In eight month I will once more have to balance my career, my relationship, my friends, my professional network, my workouts and so much more. I've been feeling that my days need more hours during my time in Palo Alto already, so I can only imagine that it will be much more challenging going forward. The quote made me realize that there isn't that magical equilibrium of perfect interplay between all those balls I have to keep in the air. Actually, doing one thing means NOT doing something else. Devoting time to my friends might mean not doing that incremental bit better at work. 

The term "work-life balance" sort of romanticizes the fact that I will actually have to make decisions to do worse than I could in some areas of my life. That realization is actually quite useful. I know myself pretty well by now and I know that believing in that vague "balance" is not going to hold me accountable and is not going to force me to make uncomfortable decisions. I hate not doing things 100%. I don't like not answering emails in time. I don't like having to decline an invitation to go to a bar with friends. I don't like telling my boss that I do not want to stay in the office until 9pm on a Friday night. I also don't like not going to a movie when I had made plans to do so.

All of this is of course necessary. And realizing that I should make up my mind in advance is pretty useful. Otherwise my behavior will not be coherent, which could result in doing worse over all. 

This ties in to a story HBS professor and business guru Clayton Christensen shared with us last year about his starting days at BCG:

"During my first project I was asked to attend a really important client meeting on a Saturday. I had to tell my project leader that this would not be possible since Saturday was the day I could spend with my wife and my kids. He then asked whether Sunday would be better for me. On Sunday, I had to tell him, I have to go to church and cannot work either. We somehow got the work done by Friday and I was never asked again to work on my weekends."

Especially when starting at a new job in a new company one tends to please the colleagues. The problem is, though, that this behavior is going to set the precedent for the years coming working with those colleagues.

I want to have my mind set on what my priorities are and where I am willing to make trade-offs.

Cheers + bis bald,

1 comment:

  1. I can totally relate to this! At my first professional job out of undergraduate I was extremely eager to please and certainly paid for it as my lack of boundaries encouraged my boss ignore the fact that I had a personal life. I didn't get to explore much of my new surroundings (I relocated to Monrovia, Liberia for the job) but it was certainly a fast track to professional development (of which, all in all, is ultimately what I wanted). If I had to do it all over again, I realized that the only sure way to illustrate how excited you are about your job is to simply kill it on your projects, take the initiative, and lead... ALL of which can be done at work (and not on your personal time).

    Nevertheless, I came across your blog after finding that your involved with the GSD Africa Business Club. I'm applying to the GSD and would love to get your perspective on a couple things. If you have a moment to chat sometime soon I'd like to connect. I'm at