Personal note: work-life balance

This is not my typical post; this is a post about the need for a work/life balance in order to remain a complex, healthy human being, and yet how this idea seems to be having a back lash in the late 2000’s.

These days there seems to be a mocking tone around the phrase “work/life balance.” It’s become trite, the buzz-word that’s lost its zing, like “self-esteem” was in the 1980s and has now become the bane of every elementary school teacher’s existence. But what is so wrong about

This attitude against the balancing act seems to come especially from people talking about “Generation Y” or “Millenials” or whatever other buzz name is going to stick. The career and gender-gap-in-the-workplace all describe the Millenials as “prioritizing a work/life balance.” Unfortunately, most people who are not Millenials read that and translate it as, “lazy and don’t take work seriously.”

As a millennial, I can staunchly say this is not true. We’re the first generation where “multi-tasking” (another buzz word in its day) is the expected norm, and we do it well. We also find nothing wrong with listening to some vintage Dead Kennedys on our ipods as we sit in front of a computer for eight hours going through tedious emails and menial clerical work that, except for the CEO of Facebook, is about all we can get hired to do so far. Sure we expected more instant job satisfaction after getting out of college (who wouldn’t after getting ribbons their entire life just for participating?), and sure it’s going to make us yearn for our days back in college when our “work/life balance” involved sleeping in and being mentally stimulated and challenged for a living. Does that mean we’re wrong?

Even beyond the slacker Millenials, “work/life balance” also seems to have become a code word for “mother who puts her children before her job.” Is that a bad thing? Apparently so, according to a lot of studies that find women who take time off in their careers to have children, even as brief as a year, have a hard time find jobs again and don’t make as much money as women in the same positions who didn’t take time off. Yet women are still expected to be the primary care-providers for their kids, and if they aren’t super-moms who can stay home with their child and make an organic, meatless, gluten free, protein-filled dinner as their children practice their Baby Mozart and take infant soccer camp, all with a killer bod three months after giving birth, then these women are obviously stunting their child’s development. At the same time, they are also expected to work full time at an office (working from home is still considered suspect). If they miss a day at the office because the kid broke his foot on his infant soccer ball, then they’re not reliable employees.

Unfortunately, many people who are scoffing at this whole “work/life balance” trend are the people who need it the most. For many people who do decide to give up their lives to job and country, “work/life balance” basically means finding time to have a drink with a client and getting (maybe) four hours of sleep. No wonder Starbucks is so popular. In this day and age of blackberries, emails, cell phones, video conferencing, and fairly inexpensive four-hour plane rides across continents now seeming like a long, tedious commute, people are working literally 24/7, not taking time for themselves, wearing down their bodies in the process (obesity epidemic, anyone?), and are expected to give more.

Of course every organization – work, family, church, little league – wants to be the top priority in a person’s life, they will fight tooth and nail to become that. The problem is when we buy into it, or try to prioritize it all.

Especially in American society, competitiveness, standing out, overachieving, and going all the way are appreciated, nay, expected of us all. Students are rewarded for straight A’s; an athlete gets attention only if they score the most points or win first prize; the person who works extra hard on a project gets promoted; being overworked and underslept is are considered bragging rights.

So I say put down your coffee, or at least linger at the office coffee station a little bit longer; hit that snooze button one more time, turn off your cell phone, go out and play catch with your dog (he’s been waiting ever so long). Since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve been working to make our lives better and more efficient, simpler. I say it’s time to take advantage of all that hard work and actually live simply, efficiently, and better. For starters, I’m going to take a nap.