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On the path to success, balancing the personal and professional

tight ropeWhen I am very busy, my social life takes a serious hit. This statement, of course, has obvious implications: I don’t go out very often and I don’t have a lot of “fun” in the sense of attending social events. It also means a reduction in the frequency of communication with people who are very important in my life.

This truth was highlighted by a series of coincidental visits and catch-up phone calls over the last couple of weeks. My dad came down from New York to celebrate Father’s Day with crab cakes and an O’s game, one of my best childhood friends visited this past weekend to celebrate birthdays and job changes and I caught up with a close college friend with a long-overdue marathon phone conversation where I learned that he is enrolled in divinity school. 

In catching up with these friends and family, I hadn’t realized how lousy I had been at keeping in touch and, in the same vein, just how important these relationships are, especially being a transplant to this city where my major support system lives states away.

In pursuing my legal career, I have at times inadvertently brushed aside these close relationships. During finals every semester, I would hole up in my study quarters with quick phone chats only in transit to and from the library. I certainly fared no better while studying for the bar exam last July. Even as a new associate in private law, my main priority became work, with the thought that as I am just starting out, my modus operundi is “prove myself.”

In April, the Atlantic had an interesting story about the interface of ambition and relationships, where the author said, “ambition drives people forward; relationships and community, by imposing limits, hold people back” when discussing a person’s decision to move out of his small town to pursue a lofty career. According to studies, “ambition is only weakly connected with well-being and negatively associated with longevity.”

A quick scan of the very successful (in terms of wealth and fame) clearly shows ambition (or perhaps in some cases greed) overpowering the importance of relationships. Martha Stewart, for example, has licensed her name and marketed her domestic products in a lucrative partnership agreement with Macy’s, operated by longtime friend Terry Lundgren as CEO. But Stewart couldn’t help herself and pursued the same agreement with J.C. Penny and is now embroiled in litigation over exclusivity rights to her brand. This is, of course, an extreme case of ambition taking significant precedent over the value of personal relationships. (Note: Stewart is finding some time to enhance her personal life.)

I am sure that it would not take you long to think of other successful professionals, whether celebrities or in your own network, who have sacrificed relationships with close friends or family in pursuit of success. These tradeoffs are inevitable; we have to make decisions in our climb to what we designate as our own personal peak.

Reconnecting with my family and friends over the last couple of weeks reminded me of the importance of these relationships. They are the ones that will keep me grounded and provide a sense of place in the world. They are also the relationships that will remain intact when careers shift and change and, as such, they should be better maintained going forward.

A final note on the theme of tradeoffs: A belated happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there who, like my dad, continue to make many sacrifices in the perpetual challenge of finding balancing among their careers and family.