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By Sarah Wilshaw-Sparkes

Years ago, before children, and in the days when I was aiming on moving up the ranks in the consulting company I worked for, I had a big ah-ha moment.

It was 1992. I have a huge capacity for work and that year I put work, and the needs of the company, first. Every day, every week. If they said jump, I did. If they needed volunteers, I stepped up. I worked weekends, I missed social events. You get the idea. I could not, simply could not, have been more dedicated.

At the end of the year came a review with one of the partners. He said to me, “Well, we’re not sure how committed you really are to this firm and to your career”.

I must have goggled at him because he went on, “Someone who was in that late night team meeting you guys had on Project X said you wished you were out in the fresh air, gardening”.

You know how emotion can fix a scene in your mind? I can still see that busy sushi restaurant in a Sydney street, the hard chairs and the carafe of water on the table. I let him have it with both barrels in a way I never have with a senior person before or since. My disappointment at a colleague telling tales about a moment of escapist fantasy was nothing compared to my outrage that after all I had done and given – and given up – this was the response. This was how much anyone had noticed or valued the huge efforts I had made.

The moral of the story, folks, is: don’t sell your soul to the firm. The firm will take all you have and still expect more. It’s a hill without a summit. So, that day in December 1992, I resolved never to give that much again. I would push back, I would keep something of me, for me. And that’s what I did. You want to know what happened? They promoted me.

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