Climbing to the top of corporate America requires near complete abnegation of one’s personal life, not in a sacrificial way, but in a child-like way. In most cases, when there are children, there is a wife at home taking care of the executive’s life in the same way she takes care of the children’s lives.
This is not a judgment on whether people should have kids. It’s fine to choose not to have kids. This is a judgment on whether people with kids should be CEOs of large companies.
I have already laid out the argument that Fortune 500 CEOs, like Howard Stringer, who work 100-hour weeks and have kids at home, are neglecting their kids. Not neglecting them like, that’s too bad. But neglecting them like, it’s totally irresponsible to have kids if you don’t want to spend any time with them.
I have also laid out the argument that men who have these top jobs can get there because they have a wife at home, running their personal life. Women get stuck in their ascent up the corporate ladder on the day their first child is born. Because women end up taking care of the kids. Women do not choose to compartmentalize kids and work the way men at the top of the ladder do.
Eve Tahmincioglu recently published a book based on interviews with CEOs: From the Sandbox to the Corner Office. She says that usually, “the wife is handling the marriage and the family. She is the one who keeps it all together.” Most of the female CEOs that Tahmincioglu interviewed did not have kids, and Tahmincioglu says they attributed their success to their lack of children because the demands of a CEO are not compatible with taking care of kids.
Meanwhile, let’s take the job hopper. The job hopper does not stay at the same company forever. So while the climber gets his identity from a corporation, the job hopper takes full responsibility for forging his own identity. The job hopper focuses on the time in between jobs to gain increased flexibility. He can make himself available to take care of a sick relative, to fly overseas to adopt a baby, and to travel when a spouse is relocated. A job hopper can take on loads of responsibility to create family stability because a job hopper is flexible.
Additionally, a job hopper can find passion in work more easily, because job hopping keeps ideas fresh and learning curves high. So whereas many ladder climbers work more than sixty hours a week to get that workplace adrenaline rush. Job hoppers can get the rush by starting something new. No need to give up family in order to get a rush from work.
This means that a job hopper can have fulfilling work and take a hefty load of responsibility for adult life. There will be time to buy birthday presents for nieces. There will be time to plan surprise parties instead of delegating it to an assistant or a spouse. There will be time to worry about household issues and marital issues and all the things someone who works 100 hours a week has no time to be responsible for.
The corporate climber, meanwhile, is isolated from the complications of real life. For example, business is full of measurable goals, acknowledgements for success, teambuilding, constant ranking, and societal pats on the back with big paychecks.
Home life has none of this. We still do not know what really makes a good parent. There are no measurable goals for getting through a day with the in-laws so there is no reward system for it either. There is no way to measure who is a good family member. There is no definition of successful spouse. Home life is murky and difficult. Work life is structured and predictable.
People who create careers that allow them to assume large levels of authority in their personal life are living as responsible adults. People who concentrate on work and delegate maintenance of all other aspects of their personal life are not truly living as adults.
Adult life is difficult, challenging and full of ways to actively give our hearts to others. The world will be a better place when careers do not shield people from taking responsibility, but instead, facilitate it.