Becoming a parent has made me realize that Americans are ultimately failing at work-life balance. Yesterday I had the joy of taking my babes to the aquarium. Afterwards, we sat at an ocean side restaurant and enjoyed the sun, the food and the view. It is something that is rare for most working parents… to stop and enjoy the day with your family…. on a Wednesday.
Corporate America has instilled this sense of competition and climbing the ladder of success. Honestly, I think we have failed at defining success. The biggest paycheck, the most reports, the fastest promotion rate… the most market share. What does it all matter? Sure, all that money can buy all of the material comforts known to man. But, what about the other stuff? Sitting in the sun and enjoying the view of your children experiencing the beach and sea life for the first time. Taking the afternoon to volunteer rather than just throwing money at a problem and calling it a day. Discovering a new city with your significant other. When you are on your death bed are you going to remember your highest annual salary or how you got promoted over the next guy? No. And if you think that answer is yes, stop reading now and just go on a vacation and get some perspective. You are going to remember those moments that made you glow with happiness outside of working hours.
Americans have the longest working hours and the least amount of vacation and sick days available. Maternity leave is way too short. There is this notion that the more hours you work, the more dedicated you are and thus the more rewards you deserve. There is a fear of leaving before your boss or of not delivering and losing your job. I recently talked to another Mom who would get snide remarks thrown at her by her coworkers (female I must note) if she started to pack up “early.” Early being 5 or 6pm. To those women, I have a few four letter words. I know people that have taken NO vacation in an entire year. We should be allowed to live life and still be successful enough to sustain our lifestyles. With the uncertainty of pensions and 401K balances, the average age of retirement is getting older and older. It’s terrifying and incredibly sad. Why is our world like this and what can we do to change? For the why, I have no answers. To change, I don’t think we can at a societal level. This culture is so deeply instilled in our everyday interactions that it would take a catastrophic event to shift our thinking. Until that volcano erupts and destroys all of the data centers we have to take it down to a personal level and stop caring so much.
I work part time and this is the closest I can get to having it all. The reality of it is, I will never be able to be a part time manager and I will not get promoted as fast as if I was full time. I knowingly took the cut in hours with this unspoken understanding. I am lucky in that my office and coworkers are incredibly cooperative to the change in my schedule. However, there is this trial period sense to my position. A lot of “if it works out” and “when you decide to go back full time.” Like there is no way I would ever choose the quality time at home over getting my career back on track after this brief stint while my children are young. I actually have no idea what will happen in the next few years on this front, but for now, I just smile and nod. At part time there is this incredible pressure to succeed in not disrupting the fast paced workflow that Silicon Valley is notorious for. In that sense, it is almost more difficult to do well while being evaluated against my full time working peers. I value my career and I do my best for a variety of reasons: my self-esteem, my children’s future and for money to spend creating those amazing moments at the aquarium and on the beach. I care for my coworkers and want our group to succeed, but shipping software is not the focus of my life. I ship software so I can live life.
So, I leave you with this: take the time to live life before life passes you by. Of course, we all can’t quit and buy a beach house in Hawaii and live off of the land. The expectation of having no responsibilities at work is not the expectation I’m trying to set. I am trying to encourage a shift in mindset. Max out your vacation to “stop and smell the roses.” Set expectations at your job where you can and if the woman next to you grabs that promotion before you because you skipped out for a parent-teacher conference, just smile and be happy for her. Shut out the people that are not supportive of your choice to leave at 5pm so that you can make it home to have dinner with your family. If you are a manager, take a minute to think about your workers and their quality of life. It should be part of your job description (it is at Microsoft!) to make sure there is a work-life balance where it is due. I personally, always am counting down the hours when I can pick up my daughter and head home to my twins for a group hug. That hug every evening is much more rewarding than any raise will ever be. 🙂