The story in Lisa Belkin’s Life’s Work column in Sunday’s New York Times about the late Eugene O’Kelly, chairman of KPMG hit a nerve with me. During my vacation, I struggled to honor my pledge not to work at all. That experience forced me to revisit the question that I come back to often: How much of our work+life fit conflict is our own doing? In other words, are we often our own worst enemy when it comes to setting (or rather not setting) boundaries around our work and life? It’s an important question if we hope to effectively combine work and life in the 21st century. Because the answer will require more actively managing the expectations and pressures we put on ourselves everyday.
Mr. O’Kelly’s story in Lisa Belkin’s column exemplifies perfectly how a company can do everything to help employees achieve “balance,” but unless an individual’s personal definition of success and expectations change, it will have no effect. Perhaps, until it’s too late. She talks about Mr. O’Kelly’s book called, Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life published after his death. He was the chairman and chief executive of KPMG, one of the country’s largest accounting firms, when he learned last May that he had an inoperable brain tumor.
Money and decisions about work+life “fit” are deeply intertwined. Two transitions that often prompt a reevaluation of the role work and money play in life were in the news this week: retirement and having a baby.
The old model of retirement continues to fade as more companies announce reductions of corporate supported pension benefits. (NYTimes 2/9/06) And, the ongoing work and motherhood debate reignited when the death of Betty Freidan last week prompted reflections on the state women’s lives in 2006, both at home and in the workplace. (Knight Ridder 2/7/06, NYTimes 2/8/06)
Over the past week, there was a flurry of articles about the pending Blackberry shutdown (USA Today 2/3/06; Money 2/1/06). Many focused on the panic high-level individuals in business and government are experiencing as they face the possibility of not being connected to work at all times. (There was even a related article in the Wall Street Journal about Type-A bathrooms–bathrooms outfitted with technology to receive calls, emails, etc).
Running through the individual stories in these articles was a work+life “fit” undertone, even though most of the interviewees were men in very demanding, senior level jobs—lawyers, CEOs, PR Executives, Record Executives. (This is a perfect example of how the term “fit” includes everyone in the same work life conversation, even those who have chosen to devote most of their time and energy to work). These men talked about how their Blackberry was a double-edged sword, waking them up at night, catching them in the bathroom, or on the field at a daughter’s soccer game. But, it also allowed them to be in their own bed or at home, or at their daughter’s game, instead of at the office.