Just before her tenure ended as secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton fainted in her home and suffered a concussion. Unlike in 2009, when she fractured her elbow and returned to work days later, Clinton remained in the hospital for weeks. Her slow recovery prompted media to wonder about her work life.
Hailed as the most widely traveled secretary of state, Clinton represents for many people the strength of female ambition. After her release from the hospital, The New York Times crooned over her "herculean work habits" and "indomitable stamina and work ethic." In spite of the adverse effects that her grueling schedule was imposing on her health, and the consensus among her advisers that she needed rest, Clinton nevertheless enjoyed "enduring status as a role model."
Such effusive praise for workaholism? It should have shocked me less. In a meritocracy such as the modern West, the biggest piece of the pie is supposedly reserved for the hardest working. Erin Callan, the former CFO of Lehman Brothers, credited her professional success to her indefatigable work ethic. Only after her divorce and resignation in 2008 could she admit the underbelly of that ethic. In a recent New York Times piece, "Is There Life After Work?" she wrote, "[W]hen I left my job, it devastated me. . . . I did not know how to value who I was versus what I did. What I did was who I was."
Despite the potential catastrophes of overwork, many of today's professional women are tempted to it. Is this because we're grossly underrepresented in high-level positions in the public and private sectors? Because we are still earning less than our male counterparts? Because successful women like Sheryl ...