Would you trade misery at home for success in your work?

David Brooks at the New York Times asked a tough question this week in his column:

Two things happened to Sandra Bullock this month. First, she won an Academy Award for best actress. Then came the news reports claiming that her husband is an adulterous jerk. So the philosophic question of the day is: Would you take that as a deal? Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?

Not a tough question in the sense that I’m really mulling if that’s a good deal. More tough in the sense that it’s painful to even read.

But aren’t there plenty of people who’ve made a similar deal with the devil? Maybe not as publically, but they’ve let their lives get totally out of balance, neglecting spouse, children, family, friends, health, hobbies to get ahead at work.  They achieve in one area but at the cost of failing in others.

Brooks goes on to talk about the power of interpersonal relationships in determining our happiness. Not money. Relationships.

… most of us pay attention to the wrong things. Most people vastly overestimate the extent to which more money would improve our lives. Most schools and colleges spend too much time preparing students for careers and not enough preparing them to make social decisions.

What can you do about that? Catherine at the Flamingo Room has some ideas, starting with inviting some friends over for a cheap potluck dinner. Check it out.

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Categories: career, home and family, lifestyle

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5 replies

  1. Excellent points, all. This is why I LOVE having smart readers make smart comments — you help bring out different angles to an idea than those I’d considered.

    Sae, I hadn’t considered sexist implications of the tradeoffs column — I was thinking more like Catherine, putting myself in Sandra’s shoes and imagining never being able to look at my little golden statue without remembering the week my life melted down — but it is interesting to consider whether the coverage might’ve been the same if it was Jeff Bridges dealing with an unfaithful spouse.

    H.T., I think you’re totally right and I didn’t mean to imply that Sandra brought on her marriage failure by being a success in her work. Even if she did neglect her hubby, there are boatloads of better ways to respond than an affair with a string of women.

    And Saejin, yup, I’m with you. For me, I think the idea of either or is really sad. I wouldn’t want to give up my career any more than I’d want to have no personal life. The varied life experiences all make the others richer.

  2. Jesse James’ failings are his own, and his to either suffer with or turn around. If Sandra was neglecting him, then that is her issue, and should not be used as an excuse for her husband’s behavior. Ultimately, we are responsible for ourselves (I know a bit about this. See previous post).

    As far as sacrificing one area of life for success is concerned, then you have to define success. I used to believe in ideas of success that were dictated to me, and it made me miserable.

    It’s great to achieve certain goals, but that does not define quality of life. I am doing better in my professional life than ever before, but that is not my goal. It just kind of happened. My relationship with life as it is takes precedence over everything. If I am doing right by the rest of the world, and myself, then I am successful.

  3. Did anyone think that there was a sexist undertone to David Brooks’ article? Poor Sandra Bullock, look at what happened to you when you stepped outside of the kitchen/domestic sphere! See what happens when you get successful? How dare you think you can have your cake and eat it too, because you’re a woman! (Who the heck orders cake and doesn’t eat it, but you know what I mean). Would this article even make sense if it were: Poor Billy Joel, your wife ran off with another guy. Would you trade domestic bliss for all those millions or for your artistic achievements? Should Picasso trade his art for ‘personal satisfaction’? The sexism may be unintentional, but it’s certainly in play.

  4. As always, this is such a timely and thought-provoking thread, Colleen. I am the first to admit this is always a struggle for me because I make a conscious effort to find work that I find really interesting. Of course, that means I need to make an equal effort to leave work at the end of the day where it belongs 😀

    Yesterday was one of the first days this year that I had time away from work and my Blackberry was not buzzing away. I had one of those perfect days yesterday that I would like to bottle and take out to enjoy again from time to time. It was a perfect sunny day, laughing with friends over great food, chocolate and drink and doing the other stuff we love together…book ended by a little work.

    I don’t think this is an either/or question for me. The fulfillment I get from satisfying work is an important part of my life. It is only a part though. I can’t imagine how flat and one-dimensional it would be if I didn’t have dear friends and family to share my silly moments and wins at work.

    Hee hee… I guess this is a typical consultant way of saying “I will modify your question to fit the answer I like” 😛

    Thanks again for bringing up an interesting question.

  5. Thanks for the shout, girl! And I’m always looking for additional ideas about how to build connections. (Oh, and poor Sandra. She’ll never look at her Oscar without thinking about this sad time.)

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