How Much Is Enough?

It is the wedge question of the new economy: How much money for your work? How much time for family? How much public glory? How much time for reflection? Fast Company looks at the choices we all have to make.


In the world of work, the hot button today is not the IPO market, which is turning Webpreneurs into instant multimillionaires.


It’s not the raging war for talent, which is leading teams of workplace wizards to put themselves up for auction to the highest bidder.

It’s not the insatiable appetite for growth, which is converting productless startups into priceless R&D labs.

It’s not the desperate search for greater efficiencies and for new markets, which is resulting in ever-larger combinations of old, established corporate giants.

It’s not even the spiraling rewards that seem to flow to those who are brave — or brazen — enough to declare themselves brands, to assert their economic independence from the traditional workplace, and, in the process, to free themselves from the constraints of salary, bureaucracy, and corporate gravity.

The hot button today embraces all of those developments of modern life — all of those developments, and more.

The hot button today is a question that hangs in the air in corporate boardrooms and at cocktail parties, in IPO road shows and at the kitchen table: How much is enough?


How much money — to compensate you for your work? How much time — to devote to your family? How much public glory — to satisfy your ego? How much opportunity for private reflection — to deepen your understanding? How much stuff is enough for you? And, no matter how much stuff you have, how do you find — and define — satisfaction?

These questions are hot — though hardly new. Seventy years ago, in “Civilization and Its Discontents,” Sigmund Freud wrote, “It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement — that they seek power, success and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life.” But while the question “How much is enough?” may not be new, the velocity, the intensity, and the scale of the answers that people can choose from today are new. Choices — in work and in life — are coming at greater speed, from more directions, and with consequences that are more immediate and more dramatic than ever before.

In the “official” world of business, where language is often an obstacle to rich understanding and genuine emotion, the question generally gets pigeonholed as a problem for the HR department to grapple with. Companies are “family-friendly”: They implement “policies and programs” that are designed to help their people “balance” work life and family life. But the real world of work is a messier place. Policies and programs seem sterile when it comes to talking about the twists and turns of the human heart, or about the intensely personal calculations that yield our tentative answers to the question “How much is enough — for me . . . for now?”

The search for specific, textured answers to that question led us to create this issue’s cover package. We begin with the results of a Fast Company-Roper Starch Worldwide online survey (conducted between April 9 and April 12 of this year) of 1,096 college-educated, employed adults. Their answers to a series of probing questions offer a window onto the complex and sometimes contradictory impulses that go into people’s choices about the intersection of work style and lifestyle in the new economy.

Next we go to Canyon Ranch Health Resort, near Tucson, Arizona, where Dan Baker’s Life Enhancement Center caters to hyper-achieving, hyper-stressed-out businesspeople — fast-trackers who need a time-out to reconnect with what really matters in life.

We then talk with three authorities, each of whom has a specific line of sight into this question: Tom Morris, a philosopher who applies the lessons of history’s greatest thinkers to today’s search for satisfaction and meaning; Shoshana Zuboff, a teacher whose Harvard Business School course on self-discovery helps executives to envision the next stage of their life; and Elizabeth Gibson-Meier, a consultant who draws on Buddhist philosophy to enable her clients to see the many options that are available to them.


Finally, we visit Norsk Hydro, a huge Norwegian conglomerate that seeks to compete and grow by following a business model that’s fundamentally different from the one that prevails in the United States: At Norsk Hydro, having “enough” both in work and in life is a source of competitive advantage — a way to make the new economy not only exhilarating and enriching but also sustainable and satisfying.

How Much Is Enough? You Tell Us

“One way to figure out what’s worth striving for in the future is to assess your satisfaction with the present,” says Tom Morris in his Short Course. The Fast Company-Roper Starch Worldwide survey represents our effort to begin that assessment. By posing a series of questions to participants in an online survey, we sought to learn the deep feelings and strong impulses that shape the choices that working men and women make about their jobs and their lives.

We asked respondents about balance in their lives — and, more indirectly, we asked them to appraise other people’s lives as well.

We offered them choices — more money or more time? more power or more time? more challenge or more time? — to see how they established their priorities.

We asked them to explain themselves: What really matters to them? And we asked them to evaluate stuff: What are the rewards of success — and what are the seeds of excess? And then, with the findings of the survey in hand, we cross-referenced questions and answers, and we cross-indexed the responses by gender, age, and income. The result is an in-depth look at how people in the Fast Company community answer the question “How much is enough?”

Here are some of the key lessons that we took away from the survey.


1. Balance is a choice: You can have it if you want it. A large majority of respondents be-lieve that balance is a matter of individual responsibility and personal choice: 87% said that people who want to achieve balance in their lives can do so — if they’re willing to make certain trade-offs. Evaluating where they are in their own lives, a surprisingly high number of respondents (60%) said that they are able to manage the demands of both their work life and their private life — a response that, taken at face value, would suggest that for many people, the question “How much is enough?” is not a terribly pressing one.

2. But the outside world makes balance hard to achieve. At the same time, the survey revealed that a shadow stretches across people’s thinking about the issue of balance. While most respondents said that their lives were in balance, most also admitted that they would do things differently if they didn’t feel money-related pressures. In fact, 77% said that if money were not an issue, they would either quit work or reduce their working hours. The survey uncovered evidence that, despite their willingness to accept responsibility for the choices that shape their lives, many people don’t feel that they have complete command over those choices. Nearly 50% of respondents said that they have no control over how many hours they work; 88% said that they find juggling work life and personal life difficult; and 84% said that people have to work as hard as possible “in order to compete.”

When offered an array of possible strategies for pursuing balance, people rejected any that required them to compromise their career. Changing the type of work they did, moving toward part-time or freelance work, or simply “giving up the idea of being a superstar at work” — all were viewed as nonstarters, even in the name of balance. And the issue of compromise cast in sharp relief a gender gap that divides men and women on a wide range of career and value-based choices: Male respondents were more likely than female respondents to dismiss work-related trade-offs out of hand.

3. Sooner or later, it all comes down to money. For most respondents, money matters most. Money, the majority of them reported, is the most powerful factor in their success, in their satisfaction, and in their ability to determine the structure and substance of their lives. To test the power of money, we gave people an in-your-face choice: Which would you rather have — a $10,000-a-year raise or an extra hour per day to spend at home with your family? No less than 83% of respondents opted for the cash — even though 91% of respondents had indicated earlier that making their personal lives more of a priority was important to them. When we asked them to indicate factors that would help them achieve balance in their lives, 86% identified “making more money” as critical.

If money is so important, how much more of it would people need in order to stop worrying? The sums that most people named were surprising — not because they were so outrageously large but because they were so relatively small: In an age of multibillion-dollar IPOs and multimillion-dollar lottery winnings, 70% of respondents said that it would take no more than an extra $50,000 a year to free them from money worries and to permit them to work the way they wanted to.

4. Enough is never enough. The ultimate question that we were asking was “How much is enough?” The ultimate answer appears to be that there is no such thing as “enough”: The more people have, the more they want. As Shoshana Zuboff observes in her Short Course, “enoughness” is “a moving target”: The rich are no more able to achieve it than those who are less well-off. Indeed, when asked how much extra income would free them from money concerns, high-income respondents (those earning $100,000 or more) were five times as likely to pick a high figure ($90,000-plus) as their lower-income counterparts (those earning less than $40,000).


We also asked people to designate various goods and services either as a marker of success or as a sign of excess — and a similar pattern emerged: The more money people made, the more likely they were to view expensive cars, big houses, and dinners at fancy restaurants as their just deserts. Flying the family to Vail for a ski vacation? That’s a sign of success. Having a vacation home? Success. A home theater? Borderline, but the rich — the male rich, especially — think that a home theater is simply a fruit of success. Lower-income respondents tended to view such things as excessive. One explanation: The BMW and the $500,000 house simply seem out of reach to them. Ultimately, poorer people — and, in a number of cases, women — are more inclined to accept limits on their ability to have stuff: 70% of those who make $40,000 a year or less, and 67% of female respondents, agreed that learning to live on less money is an important factor in achieving balance in their lives.

5. But too much is no good. Survey respondents agreed that having more money paves the way to work-life balance, but they also displayed a sense of unease about the implications of that viewpoint. In fact, people are not altogether comfortable with the habits of acquisitiveness and consumerism — or even with the drive to make more money.

To test the limits of “enoughness,” we proposed a scenario: “Pat” is offered a job opportunity at a hot startup. There’s a clear trade-off: long hours in exchange for the chance to cash in big when the company goes public. When we framed the choice simply as one involving two alternative paths, 59% of respondents said that Pat should take the high-risk, high-reward road. But when we gave Pat a working spouse and kids, and then posed the question again, 43% of respondents said that taking the new job would amount to “losing sight of what’s important.”

For most people, apparently, it’s far simpler to establish the line between success and excess when other people’s lives are under the microscope. We presented another scenario, this one involving “the Johnsons,” a couple who both work at rewarding, high-paying jobs, who can afford to dine out often and to go on great family trips — but who log long hours at work and who rarely see their kids during the week. Respondents vigorously disapproved of the Johnsons’ way of life: 59% agreed that this lifestyle is one that society pressures us to pursue, and only 8% said that they would want it for themselves. In effect, respondents said that success is fine — but not when it comes at the expense of family.

A Dream of Enough

So what does this survey tell us? More than anything, it offers a clear indication of the deeply etched fault lines in American life — and the equally deep instincts and compulsions that color our choices. We want to have it all: More money — and more time. More success — and a more satisfying family life. More creature comforts — and more sanity. We can work hard, we can find love and have a family, and we can enjoy the fruits of our success. We take for granted at least the possibility of winning at everything.

At the same time, in moments of clarity, we know that something has to give. More of one thing will eventually mean less of something else. There will be squeezes and hardships along the way — tough choices and unpleasant compromises. Of course, we wish that it weren’t so: 71% of respondents said that they don’t want to have to make trade-o/s in order to achieve balance. But we’re willing to accept those trade-o/s, given the promise of achieving something better: 68% said that they are “working extra-hard right now to try and get somewhere.”


Taken as a whole, the survey results indicate another kind of balance — a dynamic tension between hope and futility. We are, after all, a race of strivers: We’re always running harder — and we’re often willing to sacrifice resources in the present in order to pursue greatness in the future.

For the moment — which is all that we can see clearly — most of us are prepared to embrace this precarious blend of wanting and having, of getting and spending, and to call it “balance.” We believe that at some point, having “more” of something — more money, more self-knowledge — will change the game in a way that yields a new style of work, a new way of life, and a new sense of personal freedom. Then, at last, we will have it all.

Whether or not this new reality will ever actually arrive doesn’t seem all that relevant. For the moment, it’s a dream — and that seems to be enough.

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