Do not get enamored by salary and power. It is important to understand the lifestyle demands that come with the job.
Why top practitioners? While the mediocre professionals’ lifestyle may be more balanced, the lifestyle of top performers must be understood in its entirety.
So, let’s throw some light on the lifestyles of top practitioners in a few professions only to make a point. Of course, there are exceptions to this picture.
Surgeons: Most surgeons in India work 12 to 14 hours a day. They perform their first operation at 6 a.m. and operate on multiple patients till early evening. Then, they do the post-operative patient visit and attend to urgent and important out-patient cases, sometimes, till late evening. After this they prepare for the next day’s operations.
On weekends, they see out-patients to fill up the operation calendar. They travel for essential conferences both in India and overseas and often perform free surgeries. This routine stays for over 20 years or more after they achieve success. This means that they have very little time for their families, friends and relatives.
Software engineers: My job as a recruiter allows me to study software engineers closely. Most software engineers start as code writers, become team leaders, project managers, program managers, and reach the level of a practice head in a typical career trajectory spread over 20 years. To reach the top, they pay a heavy price on lifestyle. To meet deadlines, they work overnight and even over weekends. As they work with foreign clients, they have to work across multiple time zones.
Most of the key client conference calls happen late into the night and the expectation is that the corrective actions happen overnight. Travel to client locations for short visits or even 3 to 6-month postings are common; many are on short notice to locations where temperatures go below zero degrees. There are missed deadlines and client escalations every day, leading to frustration.
Academics: I have a close friend who is a professor at a leading university in the U.S. I asked him why he chose to remain in academics despite the relatively low salaries. His answer was revealing. He said that it is the only job where one can ‘reflect’ on one’s life. He has enough time to read and research. He can take a sabbatical of six months or more to learn new things, not once, but many times in his career. He lives in a beautiful campus, and, most importantly, teaches young people, and hence, stays young till late in life. Why? Because his stress levels are low and his work-life balance is high. “Sure money is not great, but what is the value of these intangibles that I get?” he concluded.
Civil servants – IPS officers: Many young people dream of joining civil services because of the power they wield and the impact that they can create. I am very close to six IPS officers who are at a senior level in the police hierarchy. Most IPS officers start at the ASP level and move up as SP of a district when they are in their early 30s. Most IPS officers believe that the best part of their career is during their stint as SP. Thereafter, they assume a variety of roles and reach the Director General of Police rank in 30 plus years. The good part of being an IPS officer is the orderlies (equivalent to peons) who do a variety of jobs at home, the official car and other perks. On the other hand, there are several challenges. First, in the district postings, there is no social life. Even when posted in cities, IPS officers lead a very limited social life because the press is always looking for an opportunity to brand them as ‘Page 3’ IPS officers. The timings are very irregular and unpredictable. When you are in key postings, you have to work 16 hours a day and on weekends, too. The higher you go, the greater is the interface with politicians, other civil servants and the public. On top of this, the police system is hierarchical and boss’ time is more important than yours and your family. All this means you may not be there when the family needs you, because of work.
Army officers: The army attracts bright talent every year through attractive advertisements showing smartly dressed officers in a combat dress battling the enemy. The army provides ‘the best of the best’ training to its officers starting with the NDA (National Defense Academy), IMA (Indian Military Academy) and OTA (Officers Training Academy), and regular training throughout the service. The salary and perks are excellent at the initial stages and the career growth is almost automatic till the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Thereafter, the career climb is very steep, forcing many to retire early. The lifestyle in an army career has many plusses and minuses.
The plusses include community housing, army canteens and clubs, housing support for children, retirement pension and other benefits. The minuses include frequent transfers forcing children to change schools frequently, disturbed family life and postings in sensitive locations. But by far the biggest minus is early retirement, depending on the rank attained.
The retirement age starts at 52 for Major and 54 for Colonel. When schoolmates in other careers peak and the children are in college, some of the army officers have to retire with inadequate income. Their resettlement in civilian jobs is also a challenge.
Lawyers: The legal community has probably the widest disparity in income among all professions, with a few lawyers earning crores annually while others struggling to make a decent income. The toughest challenge in this career is acquiring litigants. The biggest pluses in the job are flexibility to work from home when your cases are not in court, significant court vacation periods, flexibility to choose and define the workload, and so on. The biggest minus is the stress on the job.
While litigants want a favorable outcome, lawyers are unable to provide the same due to complex and difficult court procedures, delays in hearing, unfavorable judgments, and other problems. Another challenge is extensive paperwork and preparation time, often eating into family time. Most lawyers, like doctors, are busy when their families are free.
In conclusion, there are plusses and minuses with every career and one should know both sides of the career coin.