Yes, There's Life After Work — But You Have to Work For It


In an op-ed for the New York Times, former Lehman Brothers CFO Erin Callin discusses coming to terms with the boundary between one’s life at work and the work of life something she found out that she was not good at distinguishing. At the end of her article, she writes: "Perhaps I needed what felt at the time like some of the worst experiences of my life to come to a place where I could be grateful for the life that I had. I had to learn to begin to appreciate what was left."

Those "worst experiences" to which Callin refers are, of course, the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the economic recession of 2008. She has since had time to reflect upon her high-intensity career, as well as upon the damage it did to her personal life. Most importantly, she has survived the debacle and recovered to re-invent herself. More upon that in a moment.

With the advent of the mobile phone and the laptop computer, work came home. No longer were only women struggling to "balance" the demands of work and home life men were suddenly sucked past the boundary between place of business and sanctuary of home, too. I experienced this toward the end of my professional career, while my aging parents lived with us and my managerial position required monthly out-of-town travel. My husband’s work life took a similar turn. Our home, at times, resembled a hotel with friendly resident pets.

I only managed to maintain my sanity as well as a modicum of domestic tranquility, by turning off my cellphone after 7 p.m. (CST). I warned my west coast associates that any problems or issues had to be raised with me by 5 p.m., local time, or they could wait until the next business day. Those were the ground rules.

I’m not certain modern executives could get away with that any longer. Constant connectivity is more or less a given in the business world. How does one set boundaries now?

Because however much you love your job assuming you do you still have family and friends, civic responsibilities, maintenance (that’s laundry, lawn-mowing and getting your car serviced), and taking care of yourself, both physically and spiritually. In other words, you still have a life.

Sometimes, as Ms. Callin’s case illustrates, it takes a catastrophe to teach one to appreciate having the rest of life. She lost Lehman Brothers, her position, and her career in a very public and very embarrassing way which is about as catastrophic as things come but she didn’t die. She moved on to something different and better. It took some time and some self-examination, which wasn’t easy.

Life after work means two things, therefore. It carries the obvious meaning of retirement somewhere out there, years from now. But it also means what you do when you are not actively involved with your job and how you manage the permeability between working and living. It means separating working for a living from living to work.