Achieving a Work-Life Balance is Hard

Sheryl Sandberg

It appears the debate over work-life balance is heating up once again. First former Lehman Brothers CFO Erin Callan wrote this article entitled “Is There Life After Work?” for the New York Times, then 60 Minutes aired a segment in which Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said that women needed to take more initiative in advancing their careers. Can women have it all? The short answer is no. The long answer is also no. Here’s Erin Callan’s answer:

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.

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.

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.

We seem to have this debate every 6 months or so. It’s argued with a heated passion, as if we were discussing the existence of God. Except for this question has an easy answer. You cannot have it all. You can do whatever you want, but that requires sacrifices in other areas of life. If you want to have a bunch of children and spend hours of quality time with them, that requires you to have less focus on work. If you want to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company, that requires a huge time commitment, and you’ll have to spend less time with your family. This is unequivocally true for everyone. Just take me for example. I enjoy writing inappropriate blog posts on the Internet, but I also enjoy making inappropriate comments to my girlfriend. To maintain a good balance, sometimes I have to put away the computer and settle in for some quality time with my girlfriend, making fun of her Ke$ha songs and mocking her stupid reality shows. But hey, that’s just me. Family always comes first.


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