Teaching the Work-Life Balance

Is it me or are many of our BBA students preoccupied with securing the type of prestigious, high-paying jobs that can take a terrible toll on the personal life? How many undergraduate students do you know whose life ambition is to be an investment banker, management consultant or auditor for the Big Four? Don’t get me wrong—I know many who are happily employed by such firms (even in this economy), and it reflects well on Baruch College every time we place a student. My question is this: should professors push their students to think more about their future work-life balance?

Over the years, I discovered some interesting comments on careers and job hunting that I share with students every semester. I’d like to share a sample with you.

1. Michael R. Bloomberg’s commencement address, Johns Hopkins, May 22, 2003 (click here for transcription). Read the two paragraphs that begin, “Whether or not you go to graduate school…”

2. Steve Jobs’ commencement address, Stanford, June 14, 2005 (click here for transcription). Read the two paragraphs that follow the “My third story is about death” subsection, or fast forward to time 8:45 in the following video.


3. “Stupid Interview Questions,” by Liz Ryan, Business Week, Sept 21, 2005 (click here for full text).

4. The late Randy Pausch’s “last lecture,” Sept 18, 2007 (click here for transcription; video below).


5. “The Sage at Quiznos,” The Economist, Aug 28, 2008 (click here for full text). Read the 1st paragraph, “If you have a chance of working for a healthy company or a sick one, choose the sick one.”

6. What Color Is Your Parachute, by R. Bolles, 10-Speed Press, 2008. In addition to being a leading authority on job hunting (hey, there’s a reason it’s on every career counselor’s shelf), I recommend the book to students for the introspective exercises and advice on questions such as “What was I born to do?” “What is my dream job?” “How do I find the person that has the power to hire me?” “I don’t like my major; how do I choose a new career?” (Since I am not trained in career counseling, I prefer to refer students to people—such as the author—who have.)

So… what do you tell your students?

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6 Responses to Teaching the Work-Life Balance

  1. Elisabeth Gareis says:

    Whenever the topic of career choice comes up in my classes, it seems that half the students’s career decisions are driven by a desire to make lots of money. The other half (with a mixture of sadness but also determination to stay the course in their eyes) report that they are in their majors to please parents who wouldn’t approve of any other less financially promising choice. I don’t have the feeling that students want to change their minds. Do you?

  2. Liz Wollman says:

    I see this a great deal, too. But what I also notice, quite often, is an enormous amount of anxiety among students who have come to believe that their majors will somehow define them for the rest of their lives. I have found over the years that many students respond with palpable relief when I tell them that this is not necessarily the case: that many friends I went to college with ended up going into fields that were not closely connected to the majors they chose (examples: the philosophy major who is now a corporate research strategist; the Russian lit major who is now an ENT; the bio major who is now a public policy lawyer; and me–the English major who became an ethnomusicologist). I have told many a hyperventilating student that it’s okay to try on different hats in college, and that the choices one makes while a student do not have to define the rest of one’s life.

    I have no idea if I’ve changed any minds, or created many Liberal Arts majors out of our many aspiring CEOs or CPAs, but I have noticed that many students respond positively to the simple concept that college can be a time to take various paths, and that none of the paths chosen will necessarily lead to dead ends.

  3. Since first coming to Baruch I’ve believed that one of my primary tasks (I was going to write “missions” but thought better of it) here is to engage with the ambivalence that besets so many of our students. They have been taught that getting high-paying, high-stress jobs is what they’re supposed to be doing, but they’re also aware (some more, some less) of many of the drawbacks that accompany these kinds of careers. As I see it, one of my responsibilities in my anthropology courses (actually, all my courses) is to demonstrate to them that the kinds of careers our society tends to celebrate are, in world-historical and cross-cultural perspectives, odd. That is, most humans, most of the time, haven’t defined themselves in terms defined largely by how much one earns or possesses. If they—our students—are not certain that the pursuit of high-pressure careers and the accumulation of more and more possessions will bring them some real measure of satisfaction in life, I tell them, they are in very good company. They don’t have to follow this trajectory if their ambivalence is telling them they shouldn’t. I make these points in many ways, some subtle, some not so subtle. I don’t delude myself into believing that I’m changing lots of minds, but I like to think I’m creating greater space for introspection. As I’ve been known to tell my colleagues, our task in our department, and in the arts and sciences in general, can be to help inoculate students against the avaricious mindsets that characterize American business in general and business schools in particular.

  4. Melissa Degenhardt says:

    I hope you will not mind a comment from a student who has read this blog. I do want to work in investment banking, I know through friends the 90+ hours a week expected of me, so I understand the sacrifices I will make if I break into this field. I wasn’t pressured by my parents to get a MBA; I surprised them with my Baruch acceptance letter three years ago on Christmas day. Unlike most/many of the students I am starting late as I already have 20 years of working experience and decided to start my MBA at the age of 40. I would have liked to become an art history major, but I think a degree in finance may be more beneficial to me over my life time. I know a person can have a few careers over ones lifetime. My mother had three, first as a typist/secretary, later as a partner in an antique store, and then as an archivist for a non profit. Who knows where I will end up, and isn’t that the point of the journey, to discover new things as you go through life?

  5. Dennis Slavin says:

    Melissa: welcome to this blog. Frankly, I’m thrilled that a student (is there more than one?) is reading what we write. What do you mean by more beneficial to you over your lifetime? Clearly this is a very personal judgment, but if art history is in your soul, why look elsewhere? Or are you saving that for a second or third career?

  6. WMillhiser says:

    If anyone is interested, I discovered a Harvard case study that encourages students to enjoy & celebrate life: “A Fall Before Rising: The Story of Jai Jaikumar”, http://harvardbusinessonline.hbsp.harvard.edu/b01/en/common/item_detail.jhtml?id=600047

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