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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.



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 28th, 2013 01:04 am (UTC)
I used to be friends with people who worked themselves to death and gave me hell for not doing more. I really hated that something was wrong with me because I felt my work-life balance had to be preserved when they didn't care about theirs...until it affected ours. (As you might have ascertained, one of these people in my life was an ex.) But many of my engineering friends were like this, and they claimed they didn't need balance. To each their own I suppose. But I really didn't appreciate being frowned upon because my priorities were different.

Related: working more is not always the solution to a difficult home life. Just saying.
Mar. 28th, 2013 03:16 am (UTC)
You touch on something else that leaves me wondering...

Many of my hobbies are very stereotypically feminine. (I quilt, I bake). Many of my other hobbies are very generational/class driven (I blog, I like to take digital photos, I'm into social media). And then I have the usual one (I read.) Except I read broadly and often on things that are very me specific (YA, fiction, business, literature, feminism).

Anyway, point being, I often feel like when I mention my hobbies I'm being patted on the head. "Oh, you SEWED this weekend. How cute!" "Oh, you write a, what'sitcalled? blog?"

It's irritating as hell that while I am capable of being a well rounded person who can express interest in other people's passions (football, hunting, airplanes, woodworking...), that other people are not capable of extending the same courtesy. The end result is that I don't share much because I don't like feeling laughed at.

Now this isn't true of everyone, but it's true more often that it's not true. How do you leverage your awesome hobbies into being well liked when talking about them gets you patronized?
Mar. 28th, 2013 03:20 am (UTC)
And also, thank you for your thoughts! It's really helpful to get another perspective!

I think part of my situation is being at a very small company. My boss wears many hats and has been culturally conditioned to be a workaholic. (He was his own company for several years and only joined ours because he couldn't get health insurance). My CEO is also an entrepreneur, she started this company (the one that acquired us) 4 years ago in her dining room. I think that entrepreneurial spirit is part of what drives the "on all the time" attitude and part of it is the fact that we don't have many people to spread the work over. I think it would be different at a larger company in that I'd have to be much higher up the hierarchy before I was bumping into this.
Mar. 28th, 2013 11:16 pm (UTC)
And another, nother thing, that kills me.

How do you leverage your awesome hobbies when a certain set of hobbies (typically male) are seen as advantageous to your career path, but yours are seen as unrelated?

For instance, many of the guys I work with (actually, all. All of the guys I work with) have experience with machining/farm machinery/woodworking. They are salt-of-the-earth-fix-anything type fellows. This is seen as a boon when interviewing because they know how to use tools, understand how things go together, etc. And I get that. But my hobbies, which also make things and require drafting my own patterns, cutting, using (and servicing) specialized tools? They are "cute" and not relevant.


Which, I know, is not just a Mech-E thing. I keep coming back to this post: http://geekfeminism.org/2013/01/21/re-post-hiring-based-on-hobbies-effective-or-exclusive/

(And it's all part of the same pattern of how women who take time "off" work to raise kids and then run the PTA, do a ton of volunteer work, manage people in associations...get absolutely no recognition of the fact that those skills transfer into the workplace.)
Mar. 28th, 2013 04:09 am (UTC)
I feel the same way about my hobbies (and did when I was still a career engineer). What, you are creative? I don't understand what art is. Blah blah etc.
Mar. 28th, 2013 10:10 am (UTC)
I've been fortunate not to have workaholic bosses. Actually, the whole life-work balance issue was a big part of job decisions for me. I remember interviewing at one place where the head of a group that did pretty cool stuff was proud of how many lights were on at midnight. That workaholic culture was also a big reason I decided not to pursue an academic career.

I think women tend to be less drawn into this than men are, even without families. I have a group of technical women in my social circles who keep a "life-work balance" email list. It's mostly about getting together for things like concerts or museum exhibits or a crafts day, but it does also serve as informal networking. None of us have children, but schedule juggling is still a challenge as one has a husband with serious health issues, 2 of us travel frequently (both for work and pleasure) and we all do lots of other outside things.
Mar. 28th, 2013 02:21 pm (UTC)
There's also the "can't seem to say no" aspect... not that I know anyone like that. ;)
Mar. 28th, 2013 03:55 pm (UTC)
I have a friend and former co-worker who threw herself into work to avoid spending time in her relationship. She got totally burnt out and quit that job (and the relationship, thankfully). Then she starts a new job a few months later and starts working 60 hour weeks. So her company starts expecting her to put in the work for 60 hour weeks. Guess what? She gets burnt out again and quits again. She just let them come to expect that of her and she was worried that if she didn't do it, no one else did.

I have a rule where mostly I work 40-45 hour weeks and what I do at home is my own time. My parents are teachers/professors so I know what it is to constantly be doing work. I don't want that.
Apr. 3rd, 2013 04:58 pm (UTC)
I always try to remember that Sandra Day O'Connor worked part time for quite a while because she was raising her sons, and as a Supreme Court Justice, she always made time to see her husband even when his Alzheimers got so bad he didn't remember her. Her work-life balance was great, and she was amazingly successful.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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