Old Life: United States Secretary of Labor
New Life: University Professor of Social and Economic Policy, Brandeis University
My job in Washington was exciting. For four years, my days were broken into 15- or 20-minute segments. Each segment involved stress, fun—and sometimes both. The adrenaline was always pumping. And you get addicted to it.
But eventually you see the costs of the addiction. I have two boys. From the beginning, my biggest qualm about taking the job was that a Cabinet secretary's life wouldn't allow me enough time to be with them. I was right. One time, I had promised the boys that I was going to be home for dinner. But the president called a meeting. I phoned to say I wouldn't be home until midnight. My younger son, Sam, who was then nine, said, "Can you wake me up when you come in? I just want to know you're home." There was something about the way he said it—a combination of sadness and fear—that stopped me short.
There was a second problem: I missed being able to call my own shots. That may sound curious: How many people have more authority than a Cabinet officer? But I was very constrained. My time wasn't my own. My self wasn't my own. I had to be extremely careful about what I said and to whom I said it. I was in a bubble.
For me, getting a life meant getting back the things I had lost. And that meant leaving the best job I ever had. I was lucky. Very few people love their job so much that they can't get enough of it, and love their family so much that they can't get enough of them. But to me, all of the popular talk about "balance" was rubbish. There's no such thing as work-life balance if you can't get enough of both work and life.
A version of this article appeared in the June/July 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.