I owe it all to Bruce Springsteen. Racing from the office to pick up my son, I think: “What would Springsteen do?” The parallels are uncanny. Like him, I work. Like him, I am a parent. Like him, I have values.
Actually, that is a fib. Our worlds are entirely different. The singer-songwriter has oodles of cash for one thing. Nonetheless, the man behind hits such as “Born in The USA” and other, much better ones, is heralded in a new book, Leading The Life You Want, as someone who has “found ways to integrate work and the rest of life”. And therefore a person from whom we can learn.
Stewart Friedman, the author and a professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton school, wants to put to one side the debate on work-life balance. He is not offering a 10-step path to having it all. By seeing work as the opposite to life, we are creating a false dichotomy; we should ditch the idea that work competes with life, he implores. “I get pushback almost everywhere I go,” he writes. “Especially from high achievers.” They cannot envisage having an impact without making big personal-life sacrifices.
So he picks out six movers and shakers from different fields who have achieved great things and are “balanced”. Alongside Springsteen, they are Tom Tierney, co-founder of The Bridgespan Group and former chief executive of consulting firm Bain & Company; Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook; Eric Greitens, former Navy Seal, author and founder of a non-profit organisation; Michelle Obama, US first lady; Julie Foudy, a footballer who, in 1991, as a member of the US team, won the first Women’s World Cup, before going on to champion social causes.
Friedman sets out four areas that you should aim to integrate: work, home, community and the private self. In his case studies he finds “people who did great things by discovering – usually through trial and error – ways to integrate the different parts of their lives so that they reinforced and enhanced each other”.
Springsteen is championed as someone who embodies values consistently, clarifies expectations and creates cultures of innovation. He is “grounded by his musical mission, his family, his community of origin and the world community of fans he’s created”. This has allowed him to remain “at heart the same down-to-earth Jersey boy he was before striking it big”.
The case studies are interesting, up to a point. I discovered that after Ms Obama had her second child, she felt fat and got up at 4.30am to exercise, leaving her husband to organise the children in the morning. Rather than inspiring me, it left me depressed and desperate for the snooze button.
But this is a book of two halves. And the second half is much more engaging.
Friedman sets out tests and suggestions for developing skills for integrating work and the rest of life, such as building supportive networks and figuring out how to interweave work and home life to better effect.
However, the suggestion that you tell your child the story of your life not only as an “avuncular act but also an act of leadership” seems a step too far.
Yet the message – that we are doomed to misery if we chase the holy grail of
work-life balance – is worth exploring.
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