Expert Q&A with Dr. Greg Marcus, Author of “Busting Your Corporate Idol”

Here’s an interview with friend, life-balance coach and author Greg Marcus about his book, his journey to a more balanced life and his advice for working dads.

Author and life balance coach Greg Marcus.
Author and life balance coach Greg Marcus.

1. You’ve said that your mission is to help chronically overworked people find life balance. What makes you so passionate on this topic?

Chronic overwork is a terrible lifestyle. Overworked people eat poorly, feel exhausted and stressed, exercise less, have less time with the people they care about, have less and worse sex, are at a higher risk for depression, and die younger. That used to be me. I am absolutely convinced that if I had kept working 90 hours a week in corporate job, I would be dead or have survived a major health crisis. I’m happy to say that I found a way to cut my hours by over a third without changing jobs, and went on to have the most productive and lucrative years of my career working 40-50 hours a week.

2. If chronic overwork is so bad, why are so many people doing it, and why is it hard to stop?

In theory, most people will agree that being chronically overworked leads to a sucky life (see here for my take on this -SB), but it is so hard to stop when you are in the middle of it. There are many surface reasons why people work too much. Some people are driven to make a difference in the world, some feel they have no choice, some think it will pay off eventually, and some are just working so much out of habit.

There is one root cause that supersedes all of these reasons: the values people are living by. Values are the unwritten rules that govern the priorities and decisions that we make every day. Someone working all the time has adopted a company–first value system, which I call corporate idolatry.

3. I love that term. What do you mean by “Corporate Idolatry”?

Idolatry is the elevation of something ordinary to become the most important thing in your life. Corporate idolatry is making the company the most important thing, such that is squeezes out time for sleep, family, and even personal health.

When I was working 90 hours a week, I thought of myself as a family-first person. But you can’t be family first if you are working all the time.

I’ll be the first to admit that Corporate Idolatry is a jarring term. To someone who is religious, idolatry is a cardinal sin, and they are unhappy to have their work put in that class. The non-religious person on the other hand is distrustful for a term that smacks of religion.

Greg Marcus' book, which I highly recommend
Greg Marcus’ book, which I highly recommend

4. Can you describe how your life became different once you decided to move away from Corporate Idolatry?

In less than a year, I cut my hours by a third without changing jobs. Not a single person at work noticed. My career, which had been going very well, kicked into overdrive. Hey, guess what? I did better work when I wasn’t exhausted and stressed out all the time.

At home, my life became a joy. It was the everyday moments that I loved the most, things I didn’t realize I was missing. After a few years with my life in balance, I decided to resign because of a culture change at the company. What started as two months to figure out what to do next turned into almost five years as a stay-at-home dad. I’ve also consulted, written a book, and become a life balance coach.

5. What about financial considerations? Is scaling back realistic for everyone?

When I left the corporate world, my wife and I planned how long we could go without my salary. We went much longer, in part because we saved so much money on unnecessary expenses. I feel extremely fortunate that we were in a position where I could walk away from my salary and start something new. Most people can’t do that.

Some people are working 60+ hours for a low paying, hourly wage. For them, overwork is a matter of survival. I’ve never met an overworked salaried person who could not scale back their work. It is an issue of overcoming the fear of financial hardship over an actual financial impact. There is 100 years of research showing that working more than 40 hours a week is counterproductive.

6. Most readers here are busy working dads. Any particular advice for us?

The days of being a good father just by being a good provider are long past. Our kids need us to be there with them, far more than the company needs us to do that one extra thing. When the phone rings in the evening, before you answer, ask yourself what a family-first dad would do?

Thanks, Greg!

What do you think about corporate idolatry? Care to share how you work towards balance in your life? Let’s discuss in the comments section (and Greg will be happy to participate there, too)

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About Greg: Dr. Greg Marcus is a recovering workaholic who helps people create and follow an individualized plan to spend more time with family while at the same time improving their career. Dr. Greg is the author of Busting Your Corporate Idol: Self-Help for the Chronically Overworked, and founder of the Idolbuster Coaching Institute. Dr. Greg has a Ph.D. from MIT, and is a coach, speaker, and stay-at-home dad. For a free life strategy session, please visit http://idolbuster.com/coach

4 thoughts on “Expert Q&A with Dr. Greg Marcus, Author of “Busting Your Corporate Idol”

  1. This is great. I’ve eclipsed the 90-100 hour average a few times since I became a father. I never had the ability to still be a good dad when that happened. I just made the decision to work from home and reminder like this are going to be incredibly useful in making sure I don’t fill my time with things that are less important than my kids.

    • Congrats Ralph for making the decision! The transition may feel a bit weird at first. that is normal and will pass. Working at home isn’t a panacea, as the email will follow us everywhere. As someone who has made the decision to be a family-first dad, you’ll find ways to turn off the phone or leave it in the other room when it’s time to focus on the kids.
      Best of luck!

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