Four facets of sustainability ... of self

Someone asked recently: How do you manage your time and energy and efforts as you go into more senior roles? I tried to describe that, now, I'm really quite strict about personal boundaries when it comes to work and family life. 

This crisis point came after a four-year period where I moved my family around the world multiple times. We moved to China, then Singapore, next California and finally back to Basel. When we set out for Shanghai in 2013, we never expected such a convoluted voyage. But I was caught up in the roller coaster of career opportunities. When we returned to Basel, my wife and I were exhausted and my family was in turmoil. It’s taken us a long time to recover. 

If your career is a 40-year journey, you've got to find ways of keeping yourself sustained and rejuvenated through all of that. As you get broader responsibilities over time, there is a sense that you feel like you need to work ever-harder and harder to justify why you're the leader of a certain group, or why you're in charge of a certain thing. 

But if you do that, essentially your energy and your performance – and even your passion and your commitment – just erodes over time, perhaps to a point where you have a burnout or a breakdown. Or maybe someone starts to say you're not really performing that well in this job anymore. Maybe you go down an even worse path. I didn’t want that to be me. 

I’ve been more healthy in the last 10 years than I was in the first 30 years of my life – because I've been really strict about cycling, doing sports and spending time with my family on the weekend.

I try not to work too much in the evening. We all have our phones with us all the time, and if something urgent comes up, I tap a quick reply. But I never sit down on the weekend in front of my laptop and say: “I'm going to do a couple of hours of work and catch up.” If I can't do something, I've either not organized myself well, or I need to move something. 

I try to carve out time for keeping the work-life balance sustainable. And I see many leaders in Roche doing the same. I was always amazed at how many people in top leadership are triathletes. How do they do what they do and still find time to train for an IRONMAN? I think by being disciplined. Of course, I think they also got up at four o'clock in the morning to do that training. It was quite an inspiration to see that I can also do it.

A really good friend and colleague just retired from Roche. He’s 62 and still looks like a young man. He's going to enjoy his retirement; he and his wife have lots of things they're going to do. That’s because he sustained himself through a long career working in the corporate world. 

I’ve also seen people retire who worry about what they are going to do with all that time. They've got no other interests or passion in life other than work, and sometimes they're not very healthy. That's no way to live life. Sport isn’t the answer for everybody. It might be art. It might be volunteering in an organization or doing something for your community. It could be anything, but if your sole focus is just work, work, work, that's not a healthy thing for anyone.

Read Steve's other blogs on Four Facets of Sustainability, including in of theinand in

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