A column from the genuine, emotional, and often humorous exploits of coaching executives in Silicon Valley.

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Exploring Executive Work/Life Balance & Happiness

clarity empowerment leadership narrative development self understanding Sep 08, 2022
Exploring executive career work life balance

Although global data suggests that working hours have trended downward to 1757 hours per anum for the average worker in the United States (we work approximately 60% less than our great-grandparents), I get the sneaking suspicion that there is a reason we can't easily slice the data to review executive working hours. 

For one, they ain't cute.

—And for two, they don't fit the anti-work narrative.

HBR did a study in 2018 on how CEOs manage their time and found that they worked 62.5 hours per week or 3250 hours per annum—or about 88% more than the average worker if you really like dem stats.

I guesstimate that 90%+ of my clients are laughing at these bush league numbers, with many punishing themselves with 70 and 80-hour weeks regularly. And they're not all CEOs.

Hell, my self-imposed, self-loathing crisis period as a CEO hit consistent 100 hours weeks from March 2020 to December 2020. I'm still recovering.

Masochism isn't just for politicians getting peed on. It's a humble-braggadocious badge that too many executives wear with pride. And remember, you will come off as a privileged prick if you boast about working yourself to the bone by choice instead of necessity. 

As executives, we're too often toxic, imperfect leaders—perpetuating one helluva work drive at the expense of everything and everyone else. 

How exactly do senior executives manage to be there for their families and lead big teams? Or better yet, how can senior executives balance their work and concentrate on being truly happy? 

 

Confessions of A Recovering Workaholic

My twenties were a real wild time. Not because I was cool or had a lot of friends and parties—no, I was a total nerd-bro-jock boy—it was a wild time because it was mostly a dizzying blur of adventures working stupid-long hours in Silicon Valley. 

My career was, without question, my leading, if not my only, priority. But, unfortunately, sometimes it seems that's what it takes to climb the corporate ladder... 

Like many of my clients today, my mindset was to outwork everyone else. So I propelled myself into big-time roles that I didn't have the maturity to manage at the time. Such as being a Director of Marketing at Xerox at 24. 

For a while, the aggression was rewarded. 

I flirted with the Forbes 30 Under 30 award, which fueled my ambition and ego. So I worked more for a meaningless badge of 'honor.' 

When I met my beautiful wife and then-girlfriend, Mary, in 2016—we lived in Rocklin, California. I commuted to a Regus in San Francisco by Coit tower 3-4 times a week for a VP of Product Marketing role. 

She dropped me off at 4 am at Amtrak and picked me up after midnight. 

You know, the ole' car to bus to train to bus to 1-mile walk to 12-hour work day to a repeat in reverse routine. Sweet life, bro.

Despite the total sacrifice and committed grind over 6 months (and exceeding OKRs in both quarters)—our marketing team was riffed without severance in a pivot after VC fundraising. 

It seemed that work, work, work—didn't always work. 

 

What Got You Here, Doesn't Get You There

I mentioned this concept briefly when discussing how executives can achieve their deepest desires of Bezonian capitalist world domination (or that primal urge to keep pumping more plastic into the Pacific or whatever hyper-scale career winning suits your fancy). 

To recap, you can't keep pushing a boulder up an increasingly steep hill. You'll get flattened. (Plus, if and when you get to the summit, you'll see another summit more impressive, more prestigious, and with much greener pastures anyway, estupido.)

When you realize a plateau, summit, or another level of transitional maturity in your life, your priorities must change, grow, or the hike you're on should change. Or all of the above. 

As executives mature, they often increase their responsibilities and priorities—thus shouldering more work as they've always done in the past.

For example, 24-year-old Jacob ranked priorities as such: 

  1. Career
  2. Health
  3. Sex
  4. Friends
  5. Hobbies
  6. Family

For what it's worth, I'm not proud of this. I'm simply being honest. 

My thoughts were primarily driven instinctually in an unconscious manner. However, several self-destructive habits also eroded my attention to priorities, such as social media and toxic FOMO scrolling, which I still struggle with.

When choosing how I spent my time, I asked myself, 

  1. Career "Will this time help me be better at my job?"
  2. Health "Will this time help me be more attractive or healthy?"
  3. Sex "Will this time be spent wooing a partner?"
  4. Friends "Will this time be fun with friends?"
  5. Hobbies "Will this time be for playing video games, disc golf, or Magic the Gathering?"
  6. Family - Whelp, my family wasn't much of a consideration at 24, but if you asked me then, I thought they were. 

Now that I've sufficiently illustrated that I'm an asshole—I'd like to share the growth and learning of how I see things now, what triggered the changes, and what it could mean for you.

 

Realizing The Conflict & Turning Point

My serious obsession with career growth is some perversion of Type A charisma, ADHD, and addictive personality disorder, a deadly cocktail for many workaholics and executives alike. You may relate. 

When we connect our try-hard traits with doing just about anything of value in our work, we're often compensated well in return. 

We find out (often much too late) that the reward of financial compensation can bind us to imprisonment and skew our perception of success. Money does not equal happiness, and fame does not equal salvation. It's a nullary-sum game at best, but more often than not, a negative-sum game.

This theme is echoed through many of my executive clients, not simply an adage that we hear uttered on death beds. 

We may not be able to change the grandiose empire of how the world works in our lifetimes, but we can change our immediate circumstances and send the ripples to future generations. 

So let's explore what action we can take.

 

Growing Obligations, Evolving Priorities

Recognizing that title, clout, money, and other superficial career factors lead toward a negative-sum outcome can really throw you for a psychological barrel-roll when the entirety of your priorities center on your CAREER as your guiding star. 

Something's got to give—and we need to find clarity and better communicate our expectations for our executive careers. Otherwise, we're destined to follow in the footsteps that society deems most appropriate for us to follow. And subservient following is not synonymous with real executive trailblazers.

Presently, I rank priorities as such: 

  1. Faith
  2. Health
  3. Spouse
  4. Parenthood
  5. Family
  6. Friends
  7. Career
  8. Hobbies

I've learned many lessons from the more successful and happy people I work with. Notably, the order in which you invest your time is more important than the amount of time you invest or the number of things you invest in. You will find growth wherever your focus lies. For better or for worse.

You will be significant in many things concurrently if the order of your attention is proper.

This may sound counterintuitive; however, I've found that a prioritized order of operations creates a cascading impact and balance across your life. Allow me to elaborate. 

For me, leading my priorities with faith provides a calling from a caller—a foundation of integrity and principle to follow when making important decisions on my journey to become the man I strive to be. 

Health follows because I can't be as strong of a husband, father, friend, or consultant if I'm ailing mentally or physically. Or, ya know, if I'm deceased.

My spouse is prioritized before my children because I feel strongly that a two-parent household is a blessing and gift to bestow on my children. If Mary is neglected, it will doubly affect our children and erode their childhood and beyond. 

Being a great parent is a priority because our children have an opportunity to be raised in a way that nurtures an impactful adult and further surges good into the world. (I hope)

You get the gist of the cascading impact. It's almost a pay-it-forward type order of priorities.

Notably, my career has fallen from #1 to #7 — but my work has been more meaningful, fulfilling, and more financially liberating than ever before. 

It sounds nice on the surface, and I recognize that my results are far from typical and not perfect, but these are obtainable for others as well. 

 

Jacob, The Fluff Is Inspiring, But I Still Need Money

For many, we got bills to pay, boy. We're in too deep. And talk is cheap. 

A #7 priority career doesn't help my daughter focus on a 4-year education at Berkeley—and my spouse doesn't want to be with a bum. So I'll overlook my happiness to pay my mortgage and support my family. I can be happy when I'm finished with all that.

Writer Louis "Studs" Terkel may have expressed the conundrum best, "Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying."

I'm not suggesting that I have life's priorities perfected—I may never. 

However, I suggest you consider what you prioritize, why, and how you communicate to others what's important to you (so they can start respecting you accordingly). 

Additionally, evaluate any negative habits that you have that deteriorate your ability to meaningfully accomplish your priorities. 

For me, this means taking the following action:

  1. Stop drinking soda. Going on for 12 years now.  
  2. Delete Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat—and do not fall victim to TikTok or other new trends competing for my lizard brain. Going on for 5 years now. (Reddit and LinkedIn still have strong roots that I'm weeding out)
  3. Stop drinking alcohol. Going on for 9 months now.
  4. Stop hiding your identity, don't fear your truth. Going on 6 months now.
  5. Swapping my heavily used smartphone for a light phone and adjusting my consulting services and client expectations to match. 
  6. Stop eating nutrition-void food and get off the couch. Starting tomorrow.

 

Final Thoughts & Actions

Do you have clarity on what your priorities look like? What scares you about the order you chose? Are there any major changes that you need to make? In your self-analysis, is anything embarrassing, frustrating, or surprising? 

What do you need to start communicating more of in your career? Does this impact your work? Your job search? Your next negotiation? How? 

I'd love to hear about how this article influenced your current thinking.

This is the first article from a reader-submitted question. Thank you to the dozen+ readers who submitted questions while I was enjoying a baby moon with Mary in Kauai. 

Submit your article ideas here. 

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