Today I was approached by a friend and colleague to give a talk about the benefits of working in the information technology consulting industry and “How you attain achievement and enjoyment at work”. To be honest, I was taken aback by the mere proposition of talking on the subject in a positive voice given my recent experiences.
They asked that the speech take 10 to 15 minutes, in which I should divulge some of my time honed secrets that enable me to attain achievement and a good work-life balance.
I felt great about the fact that some of my peers hold me in high enough regard to ask me to give a speech about navigating a corporate minefield that stretches across continents. It’s always nice to have one’s ego stroked. But I’m hesitant to do it for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the simple fact is that most artists, professionals and masters make the impossible seem effortless to the unacquainted. Just because someone makes it seem effortless doesn’t make it magical or worthy of appreciation. The underlying focus should be on the sacrifices that need to be made in order to achieve such mastery, or wizardry. Attaining success is easy, all that’s required is a lot of bloody hard work — and enjoyment is just a byproduct of a job done well. That part is easy.
I’m not saying that I’m an artist or a master, but I’ve adapted to the changing circumstances and I have a high aptitude for absorbing the bumps life throws my way. If bending to life’s course by small increments is all that’s required to become a master, then I’m no more qualified than the next person. Being flexible is a key component.
Secondly, and more importantly, I don’t believe that I’ve achieved a true work-life balance. There has been a lot of discussion on the topic both internally and externally, but the underlying theme remains the same — work or perish. I may be unfair in my take on things because there are a number of people within the organization that don’t travel as extensively as I do. However, the greater majority of people in a position similar to my own travel just as much and it’s an accepted part of the job. I consider the work-life balance to feature prominently within such a discussion.
My work life is mostly isolated to a mixture of very specific interactions, for instance: home, airplane, lounge, airplane, client, hotel, client, hotel, client, hotel, client, hotel, client, hotel, client, hotel, hotel, hotel, client, hotel, client, hotel, client, hotel, client, hotel, client, hotel, client, hotel, airplane, lounge, airplane, airplane, home. There is the occasional side trip to see something interesting, but they tend to be rare when one has family waiting back home.
There is an element of addiction to the high-churn-stimulus that is generated within a fast-paced organization. It’s like being on a roller-coaster and not wanting to get off before you’ve hit that next high-g-turn. The only problem is that there’s always the promise of yet another high-speed swoop past the horizon. Any person programmed and conditioned to respond to such stimuli finds it incredibly difficult to imagine being satisfied anywhere else.
If I was completely honest with the audience, it might demoralize some people contemplating a long-term career in this field. A balanced work-life component is difficult if not impossible to master when covering such vast regions. Corporate culture plays an important role role in either supporting a healthy balance or not. Having a corporate charter to support a healthy work-life balance isn’t sufficient when it contradicts a push for a larger bottom line.
One part of me feels that I should spare the poor unfortunate souls making the same mistake: the idea that the organization actually cares. On the other hand, I feel like I should let them go through the grinding wheel of hell to find out for themselves. If I was to be honest about my personal thoughts on achieving enjoyment at work it would need to be fair and unbiased. That enjoyment is the product of being able to juggle work commitments with personal life goals without ever compromising on the latter.