Monday, March 11, 2013

The Illusion of "Work Life Balance"

The former CFO of Lehman Brothers recently bared her soul.  The reward for her good deed?  Punishment.

A male journalist over at Business Insider decided to psychoanalyze Erin Callan:
Callan hardly needs advice from me but I'll offer it anyway. She may want to consider that her lack of satisfaction with her life's direction is not a product of the choices she made. Instead, her choices may have been a product of her lack of satisfaction. In my experience, the kind of people who can rise to the level she did at a relatively early age tend to be filling a hole in their psyche, an indistinguishable yearning for something more that is experienced as a kind of pain. 
It couldn't possibly be that the meaningless existence that Capitalism leaves us inevitably leads to nihilism for anybody with an ounce of idealism.  No.  The system is not defective, only the failed executive who cannot be happy at the top of that system is defective:
Look at Callan's life. She is obviously very ambitious and capable. Yet she describes her life as almost beyond her control. There are no words of happiness about the success she achieved. Instead, she says she wouldn't wish her life on anyone. And now that she is in a new phase of life, she is still filled with regret, worry and unsatisfied ambition. "We are still hoping," she writes. But she means striving, pushing, trying to escape the limits of the ordinary.
Fuck you, John Carney.  Okay, that was harsh.  Let me try it this way: what happens when you fight your way to the land of milk and honey only to find it a vast desert, a wasteland devoid of any real meaning or purpose?

The bad news for Erin Callan is that she is getting it from all sides.  Emily Pecker, er, Peck, over at HuffPo managed to find a feminist angle for attacking Ms. Callan, snidely declaring:
You can add Callan's editorial to the "guilt pantheon" -- the legions of women who ascend to the top of their field only to tell you how badly they feel about it.
Fuck you, Emily Peck.   Oops, too harsh again.  Let me try it this way: the fact that Erin Callan happens to have a vagina does not mean that her sentiments about the work-life balance are hormonal or gender-specific.  Peck, in trying to paint Callan as an anti-feminist attacking her own gender, actually demonstrates her own sexism, and she tries to play that off by demeaning Callan's femininity (or alleged lack thereof):
I'm miles away from the C-suite and also space exploration, but I have two very young kids at home and not that much guilt about spending most of my work day at my desk.
Ms. Peck changes the topic without realizing it.  Callan's point was that she did not have a "work day" that was separate and distinct from her "life day."  This is one of the things that frustrate me about many women who proclaim themselves to be feminists: they view work as a choice and have no conception of work as men understand it: life.  But she can't help her ignorant snark:
I'm not defending anyone's decision to avoid spending time with their children. Personal decisions are just that: personal. However, in the wake of all the hubbub over Sandberg's book, the controversy of Yahoo's decision to ban working from home and the general excitement about how women (typically mothers) should feel about working, the time seems right to look a little closer at who is doing the hand-wringing about work-life balance.
Is it too obvious of me to point out that it is almost never men?
First, as Callan makes clear, she has no children, but wants them.  So, who are you talking to, Emily?

As to the observation that "successful" men don't complain about work-life balance, maybe that's because most men who make it to the C-suite don't have the self-awareness and/or balls to realize and admit they are not happy, usually because work is all a man is officially good for in this culture.  Instead, such men tend to punish those around them for their unrecognized lack of . . . something . . .usually by using their position power to force their "lessers" pay homage to their magnificence.  Such egotistical behavior is rampant in C-suites for a reason.

And those of us men who feel exactly like Callan have the good sense to realize that what we feel is better left unsaid because we will only be attacked as losers or self-loathers by haters that could never bring themselves to play what turns out to be a false, empty game, all the while revering that game because they never had the courage or skill to play it.

As a man who achieved the C-suite, I can say that Callan's analysis is spot-on and not gender-specific.  I'd love to compare notes.