the corporate ladder: climb and punishment

For so many teenagers, it’s simply not an option. Their grades must be exemplary. Their SAT and ACT scores must be in one of those coveted eat-sleep-and-drink percentiles. corporate ladderTheir college applications must be loaded with everything from athletics to community involvement. Their college grades must stand out, even when surrounded by standout students. Their graduate school years must reflect pinpoint focus. All of this more often than not leads to punishing 80-hour weeks at that longed-for corporate job, where creativity, freedom and empathy are shunted aside in favor of six-figure prestige and tireless climbing.

Companies like Google, with cash streaming in faster than it can be printed, can and do take advantage of that circumstance to encourage their employees to eat well, to exercise, to be creative, to give back—and set up their corporate campuses accordingly. Many more, though, under the constant pressure of relentlessly judged quarterly reports or simply meeting monthly expenses, demand more than the body can realistically sustain. Over time, sleep becomes a secondary concern and exercise a tertiary matter, with family activities fit in whenever possible.

And for those who make it to the top of the corporate ladder, or close to it, corporate annals are filled with stories like those of Mark McCormack, who turned his sports-marketing company IMG into a billion-dollar business only to die of a heart attack in a nursing home at age 72.

In his New York Times article last week, Tony Schwartz makes plain that “the demands of work for employees, at multiple levels across multiple industries, have become untenable.”

Yet the resulting salaries and benefits do provide for families, for clothes, for roofs, for cars, for college funds, for vacations, for “the good life”…. Given the ever-increasing competitiveness of our society, how does one realistically find that perpetually strived-for and almost abstruse balance?

This is hardly one of those questions that can be answered through any kind of well-defined or go-to procedure (though a heart-bypass operation or falling asleep at the wheel may well offer the needed catalyst). All that education and discipline, though, have provided unmistakable assets that can either be leveraged at the current employer or used to palpable advantage at another organization, when things like time off, time to volunteer within the community, time to care for loved ones in need and time for ongoing education can be negotiated for in advance.

The climb need not always be accompanied by punishment.