Paying the Price

Paying the Price

Fortune and success in life rarely falls into our laps. Somewhere along the line, a price is paid.

A four-year stint at college. Long hours at work. A divorce because you’re never home. Failing health because you never leave your desk. Kids that grow up not really knowing you.

Many wonder at the wealth and fame that many people seem to attain without effort – but somewhere, someone had to make sacrifices and trade offs to make it all happen. Nothing ever happens solely on account of luck – unless you happen to hit the lottery. Like I said – fortune rarely falls into our laps.

My wife and I were talking last night about choices friends and family had made, how many choices were made because they were the easy choice, and how the consequences of those choices had led them to lives that they probably didn’t envision for themselves only a short while back. Evidently, the prices being exacted wasn’t worth what they were willing to do to achieve their goals – so they settled.

Or maybe it only seems like they settled from my viewpoint. This post really isn’t supposed to be about my bias in this regard. I simply mean that for every great success or achievement, an exacting cost will be required – and at some point, everyone has to make the decision on what price they are willing to pay to achieve their goals in life.

I’ve been on enough “death march” software development projects over the course of my career to understand that sometimes the price we pay is like casting pearls before swine.

I have seen colleagues work themselves to death, have seen them grow apart from their kids, and watched as their marriages and relationships crumbled away because of the time spent pursuing the product that has to be shipped by a certain date. I still have many friends who leave home Sunday night and return Thursday evening, each and every week, in order to live in a beautiful gated community.

Much has been written about how Gen Y no longer sees the need for such sacrifices in order to attain success, or to be considered successful. However, reading the preliminary reviews of Sarah Lacy’s upcoming book “Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good” seems to belie this notion, because the successful peiple she has interviewed all have one thing in common – they work their ass off.

I think Baby Boomers sometimes get way too much credit for being Type A overachievers, because I sure have known a lot of boomers in my time that more resembled Wally than Dilbert. I’ve also worked with Gen Xers and Gen Ys that were very hard workers as well. We are deluding ourselves if we try to pigeonhole the workforce and their willingness to sacrifice solely on age – though it is a determining factor.

What we as collaborators and employers have to do is identify what goals our co-workers and employees wish to accomplish and set about ways that make sure that the prices that are being exacted of their success and promotion coincide with what they are willing to invest. If these two diverge, then congratulations – you’ve just qualified your candidate pool.

One of my favorite books – but not the movie – is “Interview with the Vampire.” Lestat, the main character, is an immortal who periodically retreats from the world to re-emerge to find himself absolutely disconnected from the age, the customs, and spirit of the times. He envies his fellow vampire and friend, Louis, who seemingly flows within whatever period he finds himself in, at one with the world in which he finds himself.

As someone who is about mid way through my professional life, I can recognize how the times and acceptable business practices have changed dramatically since I entered the work force.

I recognize that those “of a certain age” don’t use a computer or email and don’t care; that those of another age use email but are oblivious to texting and SMS; and still others than never use email, don’t watch TV or listen to radio, and eat at the dinner table with their heads down and thumbs flying furiously.

In many ways, professionally, we are like frogs in a pot of water that is slowly being heated to a boil. We don’t realize that the world about us is changing, maybe not for the better for us, until it is too late to do anything about it.

For me, the daily struggle is staying relevant and productive in a world that values success but downplays what it takes to achieve that success. Some days I win – some days, not so much.

What price do you pay, and is it worth it?

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