Work-Life Balance

A lawyer's regret: 'My boundaries slipped away until work was all that was left'

A tax lawyer who became chief financial officer of Lehman Brothers is doing some soul searching since the company imploded in 2008. And she’s not happy about her one-time devotion to work.

Erin Callan, who began her career at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, weighs in on the work-life balance debate in an opinion column for the New York Times, report the Careerist and Business Week.

“I don’t have children, so it might seem that my story lacks relevance to the work-life balance debate,” Callan wrote. “Like everyone, though, I did have relationships—a spouse, friends and family—and none of them got the best version of me. They got what was left over.

“I didn’t start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job. It crept in over time. Each year that went by, slight modifications became the new normal. First I spent a half-hour on Sunday organizing my e-mail, to-do list and calendar to make Monday morning easier. Then I was working a few hours on Sunday, then all day. My boundaries slipped away until work was all that was left.

“Inevitably, when I left my job, it devastated me. I couldn’t just rally and move on. I did not know how to value who I was versus what I did. What I did was who I was.”

Since leaving Lehman, Callan writes, she is “living a different version” of her life, applying energy to her new husband and the people she cares about. She has stepchildren, but missed having a child of her own. At age 47, she is trying to become pregnant through in vitro fertilization.

“Sometimes young women tell me they admire what I’ve done,” she wrote. “As they see it, I worked hard for 20 years and can now spend the next 20 focused on other things. But that is not balance. I do not wish that for anyone. Even at the best times in my career, I was never deluded into thinking I had achieved any sort of rational allocation between my life at work and my life outside. …

“I am beginning to realize that I sold myself short. I was talented, intelligent and energetic. It didn’t have to be so extreme. … I didn’t have to be on my BlackBerry from my first moment in the morning to my last moment at night. I didn’t have to eat the majority of my meals at my desk. I didn’t have to fly overnight to a meeting in Europe on my birthday. I now believe that I could have made it to a similar place with at least some better version of a personal life.”

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.