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Flashback Friday: Work-Life Balance

I’ve often wondered what advice my 30something self would give my 20something self. Now, through the time travel magic of journaling, we can find out.

Journal Entry from September 2, 2003 (25 years old; my first semester teaching at Bates College after leaving a PhD program)

Me Then: Today I went in at 7:15am and returned at 6:45pm. Long day. Of course [my husband] has been doing 7 to 7 for two years. I’m just coming to fully realize his frustration and aggravation. I always tried to make him feel better about the time he’s been putting in by talking about the money he made or telling him relief’s down the bend, after he’s put in his due, but what is that stuff really? In actuality, when your time and life are being sucked from you, none of that matters.

Me Now: This big issue that is *just* dawning on you, it’s actually a well-studied and often-discussed problem:  work-life balance. Not that you’d call it that; you think work-life problems are only for people with whining kids hoarding around them. Not so. It can be a big problem for any worker, regardless of what their “life” involves, and can cause reduced life and job satisfaction, lower commitment, increased burnout, higher turnover intentions, and higher absenteeism.

Me Then: What role models do I have who have lived unconventionally, i.e., not been slaves to the clock just to earn a buck? I’m beginning to fear that I’ll be left with nothing but the job, all day, everyday. And isn’t that, truly, what my parents have done forever? And everyone’s parents?

Me Now: You don’t need good role models. You heard me right:  studies find it’s actually better if you have parents who openly struggled with work-life balance. Seeing this struggle will likely make you more knowledgeable, committed to and involved in planning for your future roles, according to research. So thank your parents for their struggles and for not shielding you from those challenges. Then pick their brains about what worked for them and what didn’t. And take notes!

Me Then: It’s all so wrong. I don’t want to accept this as my fate. I fight it actively. I want to be fulfilled and make an impact but not feel like life = work and work = life.

Work-Life Balance

Be zen like a frog? (Photo credit: Tanja FÖHR)

Me Now: What you long for is work–family enrichment, in which “experiences in one role improve the quality of life in the other role” (Greenhaus & Powell, 2006). You will find it, trust me, but only by pursuing interests that naturally match who you are and what you value, like we discussed in Is Your Career In Your Genes?. When you do that, work won’t feel so much like work. Your life will begin to feed the career and vice versa. To make that happen, though, you’ll have to be intentional, reflective, and proactive. You’ll also have to be willing to make sacrifices.

Me Then: Everyone seems so complacent about the issue of work overtaking life. Like after a while of working you “get used to it” or become resigned and just accept that your whole life will be this. Doesn’t everyone go through the rage I’m feeling? Or not? 

Me Now: Most young people feel it. 73% of millennials say they’re concerned about their future work-life balance. Members of Gen Y actively seek out companies and careers that support that balance. And you will, too. This demand will force more companies to address work-life issues if they want to attract and retain good workers.

Me Then: If people are at one point so enraged, how do they transform into 8 to 6 (or longer) workers, trudging to and from their prison each day, and encouraging their kin to one day do the same? Let me know how this happens because I want to avoid it. I want to find meaningful, useful work for myself, yet not suffer or sacrifice my freedom and enjoyment on the earth for it.

Me Now: “Prison”? A bit dramatic, don’t you think? In any event, here’s how you avoid it:  you do what you’re doing right now. You become aware that you want work-life balance, and then you actively plan for it. People who have high work-family balance self-efficacy, the “belief that a person can effectively balance work and family roles simultaneously” (Basuil & Casper), do a better job creating a career that strikes a balance. It doesn’t just happen.

Three tips when planning for work-life balance:

  1. If you know that both family and work roles are going to be important to you, “avoid careers that require long hours or business travel to have more time for family” (Basuil & Casper).
  2. Practice having multiple roles early in your twenties, long before you build your own “family.” For instance, you may be a student, a part-time worker, a volunteer, a son or daughter, a “plus one,” and a best friend simultaneously. Pay attention to what works while doing this juggling – and what doesn’t. Then intentionally apply those lessons in the future.
  3. Pick a partner who will balance you. Having two hard-driving careerists in one family can make work-life balance rough, if you want to have kids. Think of work-life balance as a unit, not as an individual. At times one of you may end up doing too much work and one too much “life,” but between the two of you, you can make it work. If you choose to. And if you stay flexible about gender roles in the process.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, rest assured that you will simply get better at work-life balance with age. Because you have to. If I told you you’d one day draft a blog post about a topic you love while managing the toddler who decided to wake up at 5:15am, making breakfast for the family, and setting up voluntary career advising meetings with Bates students, you’d never believe me. Yet that’s what you just did. So there.

So what do you think:  Do you hear yourself in any of my former self’s concerns? Or was I just crazy?

Sources:
Basuil, D. A., & Casper, W. J. (2012). Work-family planning attitudes among emerging adults. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 80, 629-637.
Greenhaus, J. H., & Powell, G. N. (2006). When work and family are allies: A theory of work–family enrichment. Academy of Management Review, 31, 72–92.

Be zen like a frog? (Photo credit: Tanja FÖHR)

Rebecca Fraser-Thill About the author: A career coach, college instructor, blogger, and speaker, Rebecca Fraser-Thill empowers young adults to lead the lives they imagined they’d have. Drawing on psychology research, a decade of work with twentysomethings, and her own quarterlife frustrations, Rebecca encourages millennials to transcend the platitudes and pursue meaningful, fulfilling lives.

What do you think?

6 comments… add one

  • Kelly says:

    I only wish to think I’d kept a diary in my 20s. It would have made for fascinating (and mortifying) reading.

    • I’m so glad I did keep a journal. Reading back through them, it makes me sad that I’ve let the habit drop in my 30s. They really are a way of remembering exactly who you were and what were your priorities. And hopefully in the case of someone like me, who works with people who are younger than I currently am, it can help me reconnect with a thought process that I don’t fully inhabit any longer. Empathy is invaluable for being useful, in my opinion, so I wanted to go back and read the journals in order to become more useful. Hopefully!

  • “People who have high work-family balance self-efficacy, the “belief that a person can effectively balance work and family roles simultaneously” (Basuil & Casper), do a better job creating a career that strikes a balance.”

    This portion of the article is perhaps the most essential for someone feeling the stress of work/life balance issues. I decided from the very beginning that work is the means, not the end. As such, I actively asked about work/life balance in every interview in which I participated. I am now part of a company that takes work/life balance seriously. Work/life balance can be achieved if you make it a priority!

    As a side note, I love the premise of this post with you looking at your old journals. I hope that you continue to do this in the future because it was really interesting! Your insight in your 20′s may be different that the insight you now possess, but I still find it highly relevant to my situation.

    • I completely agree that work/life balance can only happen if we prioritize it and make an effort to create it. Good for you for asking about it at interviews. I daresay that women more often ask those questions than men – an issue about which we could have a very long, complicated discussion! – so it’s impressive that you have made work/life balance such a priority in your life. Well done.

      And thanks for the feedback about the format of this post. I thought I’d give it a shot and see how it flew. I may come back to it on another Friday in the future. I hope the journal portions are relatable to readers, in some way, shape or form.

  • [...] my growth, I have many blogging friends to thank. Rebecca Fraser-Thill from Career Avoidance 101, Jon from Jonathan Hilton, Kozo from Everyday Gurus, Lisa from Latebloom Lisa, Ashley from Chaos [...]

  • I’m a little late to the party, but this is great! I totally get what 25-year-old you was worried about. I think part of that comes from having designated vacations for our entire lives to having to budget vacation days and personal days. It’s overwhelming to think that we only get so many days of free time per year. What happened to summer? Looking forward to more advice to you, from you.

    • You’re welcome to the party whenever you attend, Lauren! Thanks for empathizing with my younger self’s sentiments. It is a challenge to go from the free form – albeit busy, even hectic – schedule of college to the set pattern of a working life. I suppose it’s just one of the many adjustments of our 20s. And quick tip on summer: it’s why my husband and I cling fast to teaching gigs. We’ve each often thought of different career paths but then it always comes back to losing summer and we say no dice. I think we’re just kids at heart! Thanks for making the time to circle back and read this post.

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