Saturday, September 14, 2013

Leaning back out

For nearly ten years, I've been a partner in a small business that has seen a lot of growth. I've been a runner a lot longer than I've been a working professional, though, and it was important to me from the beginning that these two things not become mutually exclusive. A 24/7 labor of love for many years, we provide health and social services for medically frail elders, and so are necessarily on-call and available for support around-the-clock 365 days per year. I am frequently asked "How can you work the kind of hours that you do, and still run marathons?" And my answer is always the same: "I can't imagine working the kind of hours that I do without running marathons." The basic tenet of social work (my primary professional training) is to "start where your client is," and I have found that being physically well - rested, fed, and exercised - is essential to the presence and focus that's required at work. I don't always pull this off. There are days that I eat a handful of peanuts for lunch, get only a few hours of sleep in order to prepare for a presentation, or work straight through the time I'd allocated for a run. But I do my best.

Lean In:
Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
Even in the social services, where good self-care is something we constantly preach to the families and caregivers of our disabled clients, there are pressures to perform and produce results, often to the detriment of the worker. Expectations of long hours, extended work weeks, and limited vacations are still the reality of most corporate environments. There are widespread assumptions that workers in their 30s and 40s should sacrifice time, rest, and personal pursuits during these "high productivity years," because they can make up for lost time later. I had these assumptions and expectations of myself for a long time, and several years ago, decided to make a change. But these old notions of what it means to be a loyal, dedicated, hard-working employee run pretty deep, and my decision to focus my activities, limit my hours to a more regular schedule, and commit myself more deeply to my personal relationships and recreational pursuits (chief among them: running) were met with resistance. From others, but also from myself. It occurred to me, when reading Sheryl Sandberg's fantastic Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, that if I made the decision to put reasonable boundaries around my work life in the name of child-rearing, most around me would understand and respect this decision. But as a woman in my 30s with no children, the notion that I want to work less so that I can run more (I'm simplifying) is interpreted as self-indulgence and a lack of leadership. At first, I felt guilty and hung back, but with the support of some important partners, I moved myself forward.

I just came across a reprint of an old article from The Harvard Business Review, "Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time," (Schwartz & McCarthy, 2007), which validated my experience as a professional and a runner: "The core problem with working longer hours is that time is a finite resource. Energy is a different story." They continue:
Most large organizations invest in developing employees' skills, knowledge, and competence. Very few help build and sustain their capacity - their energy - which is typically taken for granted. In fact, greater capacity makes it possible to get more done in less time at a higher level of engagement and with more sustainability.
So run on, Corporate America. RUN ON!

6 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post :) As another 30+ year old who is childless by choice and mad about running, I also understand what you mean here... I sometimes feel I have to keep my personal time very private in order not be judged. Even more so as I MAKE time for running by not having a TV and minimizing the time I dedicate to social networking - things that are inconceivable to my peers (childless or not).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome, and thank you for this comment! It feels isolating sometimes, to not be a parent OR a work-a-holic! I'm glad to know I'm not alone out there.

      Delete
  2. Great post! So true. I got to a point where I just leave at the time that I'm supposed to leave. I don't care. There are times when I stay late for various reasons, but they are so few now. I have my work time and I have my personal time. They do not intersect, except on very rare occasions. It helps. I see lots of the new graduates and they are here always working all the time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good for you! It's been really hard for me to put those kinds of boundaries around my time, as a partner in a 24/7 business based on responding to the urgent, unpredictable needs of dependent people. In the early years of the business, it really wasn't possible to close the door and be "done for the day." But as our staff grew, it became more possible ... and then it just took me a few more years to finally be willing to do it. =)

      Delete
  3. Great post. I literally just finished Lean In last night and it really impacted me. I'm about to take a new job which I think will require longer hours and I worry about marathon training but I need to remind myself to set my own boundaries. I'll get the work done but it doesnt mean I need to work 60 hours a week.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How exciting! Congratulations!! I totally agree. A job that can't be done without working 60 hours a week is, I think, a job I just don't ever want to have. Lean In was so interesting, and got me thinking about so many different facets of my life.

      Delete