Since I became editor of Fast Company some 20 issues ago, I've clocked plenty of long hours with my team to get the magazine out the door. On a closing night, when we're shipping pages to our printer, we'll often order food and drink and gather in an area of our office that we call "the lounge." Truth is, those late nights are among my favorite times.
I often joke that I'm looking forward to a close when we'll get to pull an all-nighter — something I did every Thursday night for two straight years as the editor of my college newspaper. My colleagues have learned to laugh politely at this suggestion.
It's not that I'm in favor of an unbalanced work life; I simply love what I do. My work is a true reflection of who I am, a calling that gives back far more than I invest. It demands as much as or more than I am often capable of giving. And that challenge is a thrill. Sometimes the hours are extreme (8 a.m. to 10 p.m. isn't uncommon), and I leave the office exhausted. But rarely do I leave thinking I've wasted a day doing something I didn't want to do. More often than not, I walk out feeling immensely proud of the people I work with and of the amazing things we have achieved together.
As hard as we work to produce this magazine every month, however, we're pretty much part-timers compared with the people you'll meet in this month's cover story, "Extreme Jobs (and the People Who Love Them)," by senior writer Linda Tischler. These remarkably driven and intense workers lead lives that many readers will find repellent. They typically log 80-hour weeks, travel endlessly, and feed off high stress. They push themselves to the limits of their intellectual and physical endurance. Yet they seem to be having the time of their lives.
For sure, these folks comprise a minority. Government statistics show that only 17% of managerial workers put in more than 60 hours a week. And recent polls suggest that fewer than one in four of us enjoy work too much to put it aside. In fact, nearly 60% of all American workers believe that working long hours creates too much stress and cuts too much into time they could be spending elsewhere. A whopping 76% say they get more enjoyment from the hours when they're not on the job.
That's not true of the people Tischler writes about. They not only have extreme jobs, they also have extreme work habits. David Clark, a vice president for MTV, wakes up at 6:30 a.m. every day to an alarm on his BlackBerry. He spends the next half-hour answering 30 to 40 email messages on it — before even getting out of bed. Avery Baker, a senior vice president for Tommy Hilfiger, logs about 400,000 miles a year on airplanes. John Bishop, a Citigroup I-banker, has canceled vacations, family time, and dates in favor of work.
And Irene Tse, the 34-year-old head of the government-bond trading desk at Goldman Sachs, has worked 80-hour weeks for the past 10 years. In fact, she typically gets out of bed two or three times every night just to check bond prices in markets around the world. Does she resent the demands? Hardly. "I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of days in my career when I didn't want to come to work," says Tse. "Every day I wake up, and I can't wait to get here."
Some will read these tales with amazement, others with horror. Not me. I know full well the excitement and exhilaration that come with professional extremity. Why do I work so hard? Frankly, it's not for my company, or for anyone else. I do it for me — because I'm enriched by the learning and personal growth that come from doing a job I love.
A version of this article appeared in the April 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.