Can there be work-life harmony?

Published August 26, 2021, 12:02 AM

by Sonny Coloma

Sonny Coloma


Decades ago, I worked with a workaholic boss who had a very unique work style.  He would be out in the field the whole day:  Meeting with stakeholders and influencers, fulfilling speaking engagements, doing media interviews and managing by walking around or seeing for himself what it was like in the streets and highways that defined the context of the work of our organization.

As I was his direct report, I needed to keep pace with a hectic work pace and with a highly fluid daily work schedule.  I had to be prepared to step in to be his proxy or representative in public events.  Or I had to be ready to meet with important personalities that also sought his attention.

Our workday would stretch into the wee hours.  He normally went to the office after 9 p.m.  By then, there would be visitors waiting to have an in-person meeting with him.  His big office had several meeting rooms and his executive assistant was like a circus master shepherding his callers to their appointed venue when he was ready to meet with them.  Meantime, those waiting were served refreshments or entertained by some of his subordinates who were competent to engage them.

Meanwhile, I did my best to maintain a normal family life. My daughter was in her primary grades and no matter how hectic my daily schedule was, I still managed to ride with her to school every morning, have a family dinner at home with my wife and her, and tuck her to bed after checking that her homework was done.

When I returned to my teaching career as a graduate school professor, I offered an elective on Work-Life Harmony.  Note that it was not about Work-Life Balance.  I realized early on that it was impractical and unrealistic to even imagine that equal time could be devoted to both the professional and family aspects of one’s life.

Work is what defines who we are.  Our worth is determined by our work.

Before smartphones came into vogue, it was customary for people to exchange calling cards.  Beneath one’s name was one’s position title in the company one worked for.  “Calling” actually pertained to whether one was single, or married, or was an ordained priest or nun, or had taken religious vows.  But more broadly, all types of professions or occupations could also be placed under the big tent of vocation.

Paradoxically, it was my decision to opt out of corporate life that opened up for me fresh opportunities for personal development in two other fields: The academe and government service.

During the initial phases of quarantine and lockdown, I revisited my teaching notes and happily recalled some reflections on corporate afterlife that I now happily share with readers.

Far be it for me to carp or whine about the travails of corporate life.  The corporation is a virtual university of life from which many important lessons may be learned.  It is a place for meeting many people who become one’s lifetime friends.  But it was the gut feeling of being locked in a no-win situation of long-term dependency on a highly constrained, sometimes suffocating environment of protocols and controls that prodded me, at the ripe young age of 35, to resign from the corporate world and venture into an alternative career in the academe.

I have no regrets that I took that proverbial leap of faith.  If I had not taken it, I would not have been able to become a teacher, do two government stints while on work leave from teaching, and lived a less stressful, healthier life.  For this I shall also be grateful to my alma mater, the Asian Institute of Management, my workplace for 28 years including a total of 12 years of sabbatical work to deepen my understanding of management and leadership.

My three stints in government service – including six years spanning the full term of President Benigno S. Aquino III – have provided me, by far, my most meaningful post-corporate learning experiences.  Government has tremendous capacity for doing good and for raising the quality of life of our people.  While the Philippine government is hobbled by resource constraints, there is so much that can be accomplished by a government agency that has enlightened leadership and a dedicated cadre of professionals.

Capping my corporate, government and academic career is my experience in Rotary and other voluntary service work.  So much could be accomplished by people who work together as unpaid volunteers motivated by a strong desire to transcend themselves, reach out and make a difference in the lives of others as their way of giving back – or paying forward – to society and humanity the manifold blessings they enjoy in life.