March 27th, 2013

planet

work-life balance

Dang it, I was going to comment on mrs_dragon's entry about work-life balance and ended up yammering on for so many paragraphs I decided to hog my writing for my own... that's why I'm an awful livejournal friend. For that matter, not the best on facebook or twitter either.

BUT ANYWAY here's the question: what if you want to move up in the world and have a good career, but you don't want to work 12 hours a day? And how do we handle the mixed messages we hear from successful people who say "work life balance is important... but I sacrificed all mine so good luck!"

Maybe I work at a good place, but honestly I don't know very many people who work 12 hours a day, except for during some crunch times where it's necessary. I mean when something huge is happening, you put in your hours. But then that airplane gets flying, and you relax and work 40 (okay, 45) hours a week for a while.

That is good. For you, and the company.

I actually think less of someone who says they've been working 80 hours a week for the last five years... I think "what's wrong with that guy?" Maybe he can't delegate, hogs projects, can't prioritize, struggles with perfectionism... maybe you're the CEO of a fortune 500 company and 10,000 people depend on you keeping their job, then okay fine work a ton. But most of us aren't CEOs, and a lot of us don't even want to be CEOs. We just want to be normal. So when I meet a normal person whose job is critical, but not THAT critical, I wonder if maybe they've stuck themselves in the corner.

Or worse: I wonder if they're just boring. And honestly that can be pretty bad for your career too. At the end of the day, companies want to give promotions to people who are kinda well liked. Employees want bosses they can relate to. Can you really be that if you never leave the office? How do you strike up conversations with people about friendly non-work activities if you don't HAVE any non-work activities?

Work-life balance isn't just for people with kids, it's for everybody who wants to be cool, and it's up to you to use it for good. Don't just watch TV... do something that makes you different, better, or easier to relate to as a human. Learn something. Take on an interesting new home improvement project, own a dog, travel, join random community organizations, volunteer someplace. Do things until you know how to do them, and then move on... so it's okay to get into one video game sure, but if it's the one you've been playing for two hours a night every night for the last two years, it's done.

I was talking to a group of college students who asked what they could do now to prepare for the workforce. I did not tell them to bury their noses in books, I told them to plan parties. Or just have a passion, it doesn't even matter what you're passionate about, there are a million things that can tune your mind for the problem-solving and coordination skills needed to be a good engineer.

And if you work for a company where the culture is to work 100 hours a week and have no life, then egads go someplace else, that sounds like it sucks. What are you getting out of that? Are you going to be a CEO? Because you realize there's only one of those there, right, and if s/he's chosen purely by who can be the best workaholic, and everyone is a workaholic, your odds can't be that good. In your one hour of spare waking time, get that resume going, because I truly believe there are plenty of places where you can get ahead... I've heard way more stories about those places than I have the places that sound more like labor camps. It's not about the hours, it's about being a valuable person, and you can't do that without balance.