Laziness, Luck, and Work-Life Balance

Ever since I remember, I thought of myself as a lazy person with potential for more. When I was in middle school and was offered to skip a grade, or go to a more advanced school, I refused and preferred to stay with my friends. In college, I stopped reading my textbooks probably after the first semester (the fact that I stopped buying them also helped), and only studied before the exams in order to pass (of course forgetting 100% of the course materials right after). I picked classes based on the professor’s rating and reputation for lenient grading. When time came to look for jobs, I applied to all the IT companies, barely studied for interviews and got dinged by all of them. I had no interest to work in IT and ended up getting a job in a major investment bank because I ran into a friend in the hallway and he told me the name of the CEO of this bank, and thus helped me be the only one that answered this question correctly in the job interview. Later on, while my new class of analysts was working its ass off, I chose to take every vacation day possible, leave work at a decent time and never work on weekends. We all got the same salary and bonus at the end of the year.

I had no patience to look for a more interesting, or high paying job, nor was anymore interested in the banking industry and therefore chose to go to business school. I didn’t know much about this whole thing and ended up making some connections with current MBAs who gave me very useful tips that helped me navigate the process. I wanted to apply to the top five schools and write the perfect application but yet I ended up finishing my application about 3 hours before the second round final deadline and applying only for my top choice. I got in. This is when I started getting scared about luck and how long will I be able to get away with things and continue on the right path.

Then came business school. I was surrounded by highly successful over-achievers that going through my life, would have picked the toughest path at each and every step of the way. They would skip the grade, study a whole week for the test, go to a special school for gifted children, choose the toughest college for undergrad, participate in 50 extra-curricular activities, go save orphans in Africa, and worked long hours for the best companies. All of this while looking great and projecting the image of utter-happiness. Scary shit. I felt extremely guilty for being a lazy bugger and not doing all these things throughout my life despite having the chance to. Then came recruiting and everyone was spinning in circles, trying to get internships in every top firm for the top salary and image. But I of course, chose the opposite path and only applied to things I thought would be interesting. I got no job offers while people around me were getting them left and right. Somehow, despite all that I ended up doing a great internship in an awesome company, for the first time in my life working hard and waking up in the morning looking forward to doing what I was doing there.

Second year of MBA repeated the same cycle with just a lot less efforts on my part. When I was about to graduate and still had no job, I was thinking that I should start worrying and freaking out and was indeed starting to do so, without much action though. I then got a job offer and decided to venture into the unknown and move to Brazil. It somehow again worked out.

When I first started my job here, I was overwhelmed by lack of structure and communication of expectations. I think I finally see the benefit of this.. It lets me structure my own path and create the position that I want to have. This isn’t easy. Especially, when you’re used to corporate America that tries to put you in a box as hard as possible and then tells you to think outside the box. Now imagine, there is no box, no one knows what a box is, and you’re in the middle of it, trying to make sense of the mess. No more excuses for the lazy person to exploit the system and look for shortcuts. There is no path to shortcut. So, it has been an interesting challenge that made me feel really excited about work for the first time in my life. On the other hand, I have been spending too much time in the office and then too much time outside the office thinking about work and worrying about becoming a sad workaholic.  I was in a conference recently, at a women-in-business event, and the keynote speaker, a successful CEO of a company was talking about work-life balance. She said that she hates the question of work-life balance and that her response to it was: ” forget work-life balance, there is no such thing, I just do everything because I like what I am doing and I am passionate about it. I never think about the balance of things”. I thought this was straight to the point.

For me the issue of balancing multiple priorities was always about the level of interest in each one. Therefore, it ended up with no balance, but rather focus on what was appealing at the point of time. I am still struggling with figuring out the right way to navigate the world around me, but at least I see by experience that different paths can lead you to exactly the same point, and one of those paths may indeed be easier than the other. Not sure what is the lesson to be learned from that.

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