One of the most stressful parts of corporate life for many people is having to pretend that their passions and responsibilities outside of work don’t exist.
While big companies hold endless brown bag lunches about “work-life” balance and put elaborate flexibility plans in place, the reality is that these firms are driven by one main thing: delivering great financial results to shareholders. Employees who have other priorities, too, whether it’s a commitment to doing standup comedy on Thursday nights or kids to care for at home, often suffer a disadvantage in getting ahead.
I was reminded of this when I read an article in Fortune (where I’m a contributor) about the importance of having sponsors in getting ahead in a corporate job. While mentors give you advice, sponsors are the influential folks who champion your promotion to higher ups, betting their reputation on it.
Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Talent Innovation, gave some advice to those who want to find a sponsor: “Show you’re hungry for opportunity.”
“If you’re worried you’re not qualified for that major assignment or concerned about your 2-year-old at home, do not share your honest ambivalence with a sponsor,” the writer, Jennifer Alsever, paraphrased.
No doubt, this advice is spot-on. There is a real career penalty in many companies for being worried that, say, it’s 9 p.m., you’re still at your desk, and you haven’t seen your 2 year old all day–or that you don’t want to be away on a business trip for five days, because you’ve got a small child at home. In one of my freelance gigs, I work with someone at a big corporation who has called me from his desk at 11:30 p.m. on a weeknight.
It reminded me of how much saner life can be when you’re freelancing. No matter how hard you work, you can always make time for the important people in your life–and still make a great living. You don’t have to sit there in a corporate office an hour away from your home, sick to your stomach with stress as you ponder whether you’ll put yourself on the outs with your boss by mentioning that you’d like to catch the 9:45 pm. train home. You’re the one who sets the hours.
You don’t have to pretend you have no life outside of work–or people depending on you to be present in their lives–in order to get ahead. That’s not to say that you don’t need to exercise some discretion with your clients about how open you are about other competing demands. We wrote about those kinds of conflicts in this post: Confessions of a Multitasker.