We all love a great success story filled with dogged determinism. The actor who lives in her car and works odd jobs so she can become a blockbuster sensation. The high school dropout who puts in 20-hour days to launch the next game-changing Internet company. The immigrant who moonlights as a janitor while working his way up to become CEO of the world’s largest bank.
Most people will never become famous enough to garner widespread interest in the sacrifices they make to meet work goals – the sleep deprived IT professional who perpetually works 32 hours straight to get out releases, a sales manager who misses his child’s school events to keep clients happy, an administrative assistant who is at the beck and call of an executive 24/7…
It’s easy to admire the single-minded focus to achieving goals, after all, you’ve been pumped full of “do whatever it takes, stick-to-your-goals, never give up, no pain no gain” quotes, memes and inspirational speeches most of your life. As a society, we celebrate commitment at all costs and tend to equate giving up as failure.
But when does healthy professional striving turn into useless struggle and how do you know when it’s time to throw in the towel?
The answer seems simple: when more pain is associated with pursuit of your goal than pleasure. After all, the only reason to achieve success is because you believe it will make you happy in some way or another.
As a recruitment leader, Ignite GM Leonie Knight has spent much of her career guiding people through career challenges.
“It’s all about balance. If your life and family and personal health succumb to your role/employer, you need to seriously evaluate if achieving greatness in your role is worth it,” she says. “Hard work, long hours and dedicated performance are normal factors for leaders in business; however, when your physical or emotional health is impacted, that’s a sign that you’re not living a balanced life.”
But sometimes just coming to the conclusion that things are out of balance can be difficult.
Knight says employees – especially Type A’s in leadership positions – can be slow to realise when their determination to succeed in a role is overriding their wellbeing and happiness.
“Determination, persistence and a sense of responsibility will often make high performers and leaders work hard to overcome what’s not working,” says Knight. “Even when they know their lives are out of balance they may self-sacrifice until they are no longer able to ignore the misery they’re experiencing.”
Arianna Huffington learned about balance the hard way. In 2007 she collapsed from burnout and exhaustion. Since then she’s been an advocate of living a well-rounded life.
“I wish I could go back and tell myself that not only is there no trade-off between living a well-rounded life and high performance, performance is actually improved when our lives include time for renewal, wisdom, wonder and giving. That would have saved me a lot of unnecessary stress, burnout and exhaustion.”
Knight believes good employers know this.
“You may think your employer will reward dedication to a role when they see you working long hours and know you are up communicating around the clock but good employers know that you’re more likely to succeed if you’re living a healthy, well rounded life. They should be supporting you in achieving your professional goals while encouraging you to lead a fulfilling personal life. If you can’t achieve balance while meeting your goals then it’s time to move on.”