I have always been an "A student." Work hard, complete the assignment, pay attention to the details, work your way through the to-do list.....and good things follow. For most of professional life, this "rule" worked extremely well.
And then I was "reorganized out" of Bank of America, smack out of the blue. I had poured myself into turning around its Merrill Lynch business after the market crash; and on the day I was sent home, the business was growing, was above budget and was gaining market share. To get there, I had traveled like a fiend, worked through almost every weekend and spent more time with the people at the bank than with my family. But in this case, my "rule" hadn't worked, and I searched for a new construct.
Fast forward some months to my son Johnathan's high school graduation.
As I listened to him give the (in my opinion, funny, insightful, sharp) graduation speech, it seemed like another ending. A summer of travel and work and then off to college. And, if my recollection of college was correct, visits home would be limited to major holidays and a few long weekends. I wouldn't go so far as to say that he didn't need me, but the heavy lifting was well over.
A few hours later, he was asleep in his bed, no doubt from the exhaustion of the last few weeks of high school and the prom. Then came the fever and some stomach pain. A headache. So a trip to the doctor. A trip to the emergency room for dehydration, from which he was sent home with apple juice. More pain in his stomach and in his shoulder. Another trip to the doctor, diagnosed as the flu, and given Tylenol. A call to the doctor when the pain became significant, with further reassurances. And another call. And another over the next few days.
And then I was sitting with him in the middle of the night, with my grown son literally crying from the pain that the doctor said was to be expected for this version of the flu. When I thought he had fallen asleep, I got up to leave, and he said, "Mommy, please don't leave me." At 18-years-old, in words I hadn't heard for a decade, at least: "Mommy, please don't leave me."
It was as though I had sustained an electrical shock, as I realized that my son was very sick, regardless of what any doctor was telling me. I went into full Mamma Bear mode, getting him out of bed and to a (different) emergency room. At the ER, I refused to leave until they ran every test they could think of to explain my son's pain.
Johnathan's spleen had become so swollen that it was bleeding into his belly, something that the doctors had overlooked for days (but for which shoulder pain is a bulls-eye indicator). And his liver wasn't doing so well either. This was the result of mononucleosis (ahhh, teenagers.....), which affects many his age to a slight degree and a few to a significant degree. He was in the hospital on complete bed rest for the better part of a week to save his spleen, he was quite sick for a month, and it took him months and months to get back to 100%. I didn't leave the hospital for a single minute while he was there, and I think if I had tried, he wouldn't have allowed me to.
I really have no idea what would have happened to Johnathan if I were still at the bank, traveling my customary three to four days and nights a week. Frankly, I can't stand to think about it.
Today, I can easily see what I lost on leaving the bank: I no longer have access to the private jet or the car and driver or the big office. In return: I don't work any less hard than I used to, but I have the freedom to set my own schedule. I know that my old "rule" doesn't always work out, but the rule that replaced it is that I spend much more time with the people who are important to me....and to whom I am important. First among those are my family. I realize as I look back that the bank gave me a most wonderful gift indeed, even if it came wrapped in the proverbial punch in the gut.
*Parts of this post originally appeared on sarahbrokaw.com.
Sallie Krawcheck is the business leader of the global professional woman's network, 85 Broads. She is the former CEO of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and Smith Barney.
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