Olympic Games

The price you pay for an Olympic-caliber career

July 26, 2012: 10:48 AM ET

Today's business world is so competitive that those who reach the very top must focus "all-in" or lose out to their rivals, much in the same way as Olympic hopefuls.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

FORTUNE -- Building a world-class career requires superhuman dedication, persistence, and raw talent, as we can see in the life stories of athletes gathered for the London Olympics -- and in the resumes of many Fortune 100 chief executives.

Those who reach Olympic levels of success in sports and in business share one other common quality: both groups of people have paid a major price in other parts of their lives for pursuing one aim with a single-minded focus for years or even decades.

"It's really, really difficult to be an Olympic champion or a super-achiever in the workplace without some kind of sacrifice on the personal front," says Kevin Sheridan, author of Building a Magnetic Culture and a senior vice president at Avatar HR Solutions in Chicago.

The question of what price top leaders pay for success arose in the discussion of a recent Atlantic Magazine cover story titled "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" as well as the coverage of new Yahoo (YHOO) CEO Marissa Mayer, whose first baby is due just months after she takes the helm. But it's not just women who struggle to balance their career goals and personal responsibilities in our always-on work culture.

MORE: Marissa Mayer and the masculine requirements for success

Some male executives may appear to be free to travel and devote themselves to work exclusively, but later pay a price in their crumbling relationships with spouses and children, notes George Bradt, a consultant and author of The New Leader's 100 Day Action Plan. And regardless of your gender, every human being requires a certain amount of sleep, exercise, and downtime to have a truly healthy lifestyle.

"In the big companies, the people that I've seen absolutely devoted their lives to get to the top," Bradt says. "There are the explicit tradeoffs and the implicit tradeoffs, but the gate on everybody is time. You cannot expand the time." More

Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.