Working in a corporate environment that fosters competition between the masses has created a culture of individuals who adhere to an all work and no play policy. It is commonplace to hear bragging in conference rooms or the proverbial water cooler about how many hours people worked during the week, or over the weekend, or on a holiday. At the end of the year, it is amazing how many people boast about how much vacation time they are going to lose because they were too busy to take it. What shocks me most is the attitude around these conversations. They are not angry at having to work so hard, they are not upset at the amount of time spent at work rather then with those they love, instead, they are proud that they have given work the ultimate sacrifice; their time.
Time is a precious commodity. It is important to remember that how we spend our time defines who we are. Those who spend all of their time working essentially are their jobs. Who they are, how they characterize themselves, their definition of self-worth are directly correlated to what they do for a living. Risking sounding cliché, they don’t realize there is a distinction between what you do for a living and what you do for a life; ultimately, they have no life.
There is a profound difference between cultures on how they perceive work. Working overseas provided me the unique opportunity to learn this lesson years ago. My team tried to work later then 6:00 one evening in Luxembourg, a time that would be considered within the normal working day in the United States. We were asked to leave the building by the site director. He explained to us that Americans live to work, and Europeans work to live. While we were at his site working in his country, we would have to adopt the work to live philosophy. So, every evening we left work and enjoyed the beauty that is Luxembourg. I recall very little of the work I actually did in Luxembourg, but the city and its beautiful citizens will always have a special place in my heart. It was an important lesson to learn; it is easy to forget details of some job or project, but you will always remember amazing people and experiences.
It would be naïve to think everyone can just take on this attitude and survive in today’s workplace. Far too many people perceive those who dedicate their whole life to a job as the most committed and productive employees, and those who seek a work/life balance as less dedicated to the success of the organization. What has this produced? Really boring people at the top of the corporate ladder; people who are so one-dimensional that they are unable to talk about anything but work, who neglect the social and personal needs of their friends and family, and who are admired for how hard they work and not who they are. Executives and wanna-be executives who have few real life experiences to pull new ideas and concepts from, everything they do know about the world is from their B-school text books.
With the high-pressure, high-stakes world of U.S. business, a person who has balance, who puts their family and friends on top, and who takes their vacation time, will probably never move to the top of a major corporate organization. For those willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to move ahead, I say go for it. I might never achieve my childhood dreams of being a CEO or President, but those other dreams around having fun and seeing the world are much more important.