Friday, October 9, 2009

Wanted: Work-Life Balance.

Me: "Waah! I work too much!"

My friend: "Dude. I'm a medical resident, I wake up at 4am and don't get back home until 7pm, at which point I go to bed. And I work most Saturdays."

Me: "You win. Also, I'm never going to be a doctor."

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Dad: "How is work, Ashley?"

Me: "Good. Minus the part that I work all the freaking time."

Dad: "Welcome to adulthood. You think I like 50-60 hour work weeks?" (My dad works 12 hour days as a financial director at Fortune 500 company. And I actually DID think he liked working long days.)

Me: "Waaah. Adulthood sucks."

Dad: "Adults don't say, 'suck' unless they're talking about vacuums. Also, you should eat meat."

Mom: "Adults don't say 'freaking,' either. You know what that's a substitute for."

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Email/G-chat/Tweet to Friend Who is Not Medical Resident: "Waah! Work days long! Hate it! Sucks!"

Normal Friend: "Agreed! Let's work part time or bake or anything to flee long hours in an office!"

. . . . . . .

Am I weak or whiny because a demanding full-time job seems like a lot to handle? (Seriously, please tell me I'm not as annoying as Terri from Glee: "See, I'm not built to work five days a week.")

When I asked: is there a way to have a clean house, homemade dinner, and a fabulous, exciting career? You all confessed it was difficult and tiring for you as well - and gave me some great suggestions.

Still, I feel alone at work and in my social circles where the vast majority of my friends, family, and colleagues seem perfectly content that there isn't much life outside of work - aside from glorious, but short, weekends. Is it naive, presumptuous, or even pretentious to want out of the hamster wheel of long days and little time at home?

I picked up a book (on CD) that perfectly articulated the thoughts that have been swirling around in my head. I listened to Womenomics by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman during my commute for the last week or two and nodded along enthusiastically as I heard things like:
"If we're increasingly frustrated by the sixty-hour office week, the next generation has no interest in it at all...They want to create unique, non traditional career paths so that they can achieve all their live goals. They are impressively confident about their priorities, and they won't settle for anything less than liberation. 'Generations X and Y do have a very strong work ethic, but they want more balance - a satisfying work and personal life...' notes Kathleen Christensen."
Maybe I'm not alone after all! The authors pointed out flaws in workplace culture - particularly the insanity of presence-orientated work (being in an office for a certain number of hours) instead of results-oriented work.

The worst is that guilty feeling that invades your soul (or maybe just mine) if you've gotten your work done for the day, but the boss hasn't left yet - do you leave or will that show that you're not committed? There seems to be an insinuation that "She who is in the office for longer hours must be a better worker." Asking for a day off can send my anxiety skyrocketing, even if I absolutely deserve it. Usually, I just wimp out and talk myself out of it.

I know this guilt and anxiety I feel is not unique. (Right??)

One more quote from the book, just because it makes my heart soar:
"These workers demand more flexibility, meaningful jobs, professional freedom, higher rewards, and a better work-life balance than older employees do. Companies face a rate of high attrition if their expectations aren't met'"


It's a balance I want to figure out - and that we all deserve.


  1. I'm with you 100%! I have a long commute to work and used to work five 9-hour days a week. It wore me out. I recently switched to two 9-hour days and two 13-hour days a week. (I'm a nurse and there's really no way to avoid that overtime.) Anyway, the extra day off makes a huge difference! My life at home is more important to me than my life at work, even though I love it and consider it a calling and a vocation. When I have a baby I intend to switch to three 13-hour days a week. I'm blessed to have some flexibility, but the long hours are still tough sometimes!

  2. It's like you crawled into my head, dug around a little, grabbed a few things you saw, took those thoughts with you, and then wrote this post.

    I'm SO with you. And I like your normal friend the best.

    And now I have a mental image of a Little Ashley crawling around in my head. I'm not sure if that's cute or creepy.

    Anyway, here's hoping you find the balance. And here's hoping I do too :)

  3. Hey Ash! ;) Okay...I absolutely 110% know how you feel. It's really tough. Once in a blue moon I'll meet someone totally fab that works for themselves and take 4 days off, etc. I would personally love to be able to do it.

    I think I keep sane by telling myself that I am "young" and I can endure long hours now & when it's time for family that will change drastically.

    Another thing - I end up getting VERY little sleep trying to do everything but I love it. So when I come home from work at 6pm I'll stay up at least another 5 hours and get up and play before work for at least 2 hours...making work and play almost equal.

    One last thing - I TOTALLY would get the guilty feeling...but you know what? They (our bosses) get paid A LOT more so that is how I rationalize it. I also get anxious asking for vacay days....I'm still working on this one. Luckily I've had excuses to take them (weddings, graduations, etc.).

    Wow, that was long. Anyways, this is so random but I love your blog. It always speaks volumes to me. xo

  4. I'm totally with you on this one - at the moment I'm unemployed. Which is partly because I don't want to take a job with a long commute, or where I have to work evenings and weekends and never see my husband. It's just not worth it. That said...a job would be nice. One day. As long as it doesn't involve working all the freaking time. :)

  5. It is hard, no matter the situation. I work 40 hours a week, Monday-Friday; I'm also taking three online classes. By spending my "off time" doing something I enjoy, I honestly don't mind working or doing school work. I also always specify a day as "relax day." Even if it's a work day, I make sure the time I'm not working, I'm relaxing. Whether I take a nap, watch tv, read a book, blog ... it's my "me time."

  6. I think a lot of people aren't thrilled to work long hours, but I know I'm doing it so that when I get promoted and when we have kids I can eventually have a flexible work arrangement and work half time for more money.

    It's hard but as long as you have a plan in mind it's not so horrible.

    Also, regarding that "she who works the most hours" idea.. I'm one of the top performers at my job, but I'm also the one who rarely actually comes in on the weekends (I work from home in my pjs in that case), have never pulled an all-nighter (there are some idiots at my work who actually think that is a good idea), and will leave at 5 if I'm slow on work. In the end the things that matter most: a great attitude, quickness in grasping concepts, and efficiency. If you have all your work done, then do not feel obligated to stay. It will be better for you in the long run because you don't want to get burned out, especially unnecessarily.

  7. I work about 50 hours a week as well and it is NOT fun. Add the hour long commute ONE WAY and you have a very sleepy Nora by the end of the day. It takes it's toll on everything: gym. relationships. friendships. motivation to clean and do laundry. The thing is, I like to do all those things and when I can't do them to my ability I get grumpy and frustrated.

    I think the corporate world needs to realize that work has changed and so should their workforce. Having us chained to our desks 5 days a week is rather unnecessary and frustrating. Remote workforces are happier. Hell, I'd even take a bit of a pay cut if I could work from home one or two days a week!

  8. Here here! I completely agree. Achieving a good balance is one reason why I'm going back to school for nursing. Although I have great ambitions to work in public health, I will always have the option to work as an RN and do a traditional 3-day workweek (12 hour shifts). I'm looking forward to having 4 days off, especially when I start a family and work on my graduate degrees.

    Plus, I think it depends on your passion. I've figured out that I don't have ONE passion for ONE thing, which is why I could never be a doctor or have a job where my time is consumed by working on that one thing. I want a job where I have the freedom to explore ALL of my interests. I think that diversity of interests is also unique to our generation--it seems like, up until now, you're expected to be ONE thing when you grow up, and that's how you're identified. Today, it seems like more of us are along the lines of, "I work as a full-time X but I'm also working on X in my free time, and when I'm doing that I also really like doing X, X, and X." Personally, I think this is a great thing, but it is definitely hard making it work in a society that seems to want you to done just one of those X's.

    in fact, that last photo/quote gave me little tears in my eyes. i want so badly to not have to "work" so much. i seriously hate it. but... i realize that only i can change that, so i am starting to put extra effort in to making plans so that i don't have to work full time FOREVER. it may be hard now, but i'm *hoping* it will pay off in the long run!

    enjoy your weekend :)

  10. Ugh, I'm with you. I have a full time job & I go to school full time and I feel like I'm not having a life outside of it all. I think my main goal is figuring out what kind of career I can have post- graduation that will leave me with enough of a life outside of it. Isn't that what we ALL need?
    Hang in there!

  11. I did the 9-5 (and the 8:30 to far too long) office job thing for 10 years.

    In September, I quit my high-stress, soul-sucking "career" and went back to school to become a certified massage therapist. I'm now working a part-time job that just barely covers the bills.

    And I can't remember the last time I've been this happy.

    It took me two years working in a job I hated to figure out what I really wanted to do, and how I could go about doing it.

    There is hope!!!

  12. I worked 40+ hour weeks this summer (I'm a grad student/TA during the academic year), and I kept saying that I'm not sure I'm cut out to work 40 hour weeks. Which makes me feel...lazy? But I really think it's just the kind of work you're doing. If you're doing the sort of work that inspires and energizes you, 40 hour weeks won't seem awful. I doubt it means that you're not tough enough or hard working enough - who wants to be away from their home and family and the activities they love for hours and hours a week? When you find the job that you love, it'll fall into place.

  13. I work part-time all by myself. I would have it no other way. I learned early on that I was not cut out for a normal job. When in college I got a part time job and that part time job was 39 hours a week because if I worked 40 then it would be full time. When I went to get a part time job I meant part time not just barely full time.

    I have time to clean the house and make dinners and all that stuff but there are sacrifices involved as well. My husband has the crappy way too much work at a crappy job for way too little money and he comes home unhappy everyday. We struggle with money and don't have enough to buy the food we really would like to have. We have another week before either of us get's paid and we have $7 to our names and two more nights of good dinners that probably won't make any leftovers.

    I struggle with the fact that I could fix these money issues a bit by going out there and getting a normal job but then we would both be miserable all the time and where would that get us. I think no matter what you do there is always a balance struggle. I absolutely love my job and it is my dream job but I still think I should be doing something else and I feel guilty when I am at home relaxing and I keep getting texts of all the BS my husband is dealing with at work.

    For now things are like this and one day we will get somewhere, I hope.

  14. I feel like this frequently and I only work 8 hour days. There is just not enough time in the day/too much time spent at work. Don't feel anxious about taking off of work- if you have vacation time then you deserve to take it. At my job it expires every year, which is even more incentive to use it.

  15. I'm totally with you- while we can suggest coping mechanisms to you that we all use to crawl & claw our way through Fridays, now that I've started working part time I'm not sure that I could go back to working full time!

    I know that when I finish school next year (fingers crossed..) I'll have to, but working 4 days a week seems way, way more humane to me.

    Lets you and I move to France, ok? I would really appreciate that.

  16. I'm feeling really great today because I left my coffeehouse with a maple white mocha after a super productive 10 hour day. I think the secret is absolutely loving your job... even if it requires multiple alarms set before 4:30am... even if it requires multiple days staying after 3pm... even if it requires lots of burns, lack of sleep, and whiny employees to take care of. I truly love my job and want to make the most of my day. That's balance to me.

  17. The hard is finding the balance that works for you because people usually think that someone else's balance (or schedule) will work for them. and that's not always the case.

    Although I'm employed part-time at a soul-sucking job, it does provide me the kind of balance I LOVE. (3 days working, 4 days off)

    I think there's a part of me that's afraid of getting a "grown-up" job because I know that my ideal balance will be shifted.

  18. I think many people (especially women, unfortunately) are in your shoes regarding the guilt. We feel obligated to work long hours and not take time for ourselves because we feel we are judged (and probably are) by our work. It becomes how we define ourselves. If we work long hours and/or make lots of money, we tend not to question our usefulness (even if what we're doing is pointless). We also work long hours out of fear. We have to impress our bosses for fear of losing our jobs.

    I had a professor once who said that he found the question, "What do you do?" odd. "Well, I do a lot of things," he said to us, but clearly what people mean is "How do you make money?" We're caught between not wanting to be our jobs exclusively and knowing that this is how the world around us identifies us.

    I don't think you are a whiner, and I think you deserve a life outside of work. We all deserve this--even medical students and your dad. We all deserve a satisfying and balanced life. I do not for one second believe that this is simply what it's like to be an adult. Some adults choose to live this kind of life (even your dad) for whatever reason, and they make the most of it, but it's not the only way. I know you love your job, but you deserve time for yourself too. If you're afraid of doing this for yourself, then remind yourself that you're a role model now. Young women are looking at you and seeing what a professional woman is. Would you want them to feel this way about their lives?

  19. HA. My parents say the exact same things re: "sucks" and "freaking". I try SO HARD not to say those words! BUT THEY ARE SO USEFUL!

    I hated working. I still feel guilty saying I hated working. I knew I wanted to stay home with my kids and I would go through these tremendous guilt trips (IN MY OWN HEAD) about whether I only wanted to have kids so I could justify not working. Isn't that awful? IT IS AWFUL.

    A few years later I realize that I DO like working, I just like working at home, for myself, on my own schedule. Which is totally spoiled, right? See, I have the same problem. I am no help. GAH.

  20. I agree -- it its something we all deserve and we have to figure out a way to make it that balance work for us.

  21. Love this! I really enjoy the job I have now, because not only do I get to work with kids, but I'm only working about 30 hours a week. The downside? The paycheck. I don't know if it is possible to have it all, but it's nice to know that you're not the only one who wants it!

  22. I completely agree with you! This is my exact attitude. I obviously want to make money and love my job, but I don't want the job to be my life. My dad's job was his life and that is now how I want to be.

  23. hey, Ashley! I have never commented on your posts but I have been SOOOOOOO grateful about what you have been writing about work. I just started at a mental health agency where it seems like everyone works all the time. I'm really resolved to trying to make sure I don't get completely sucked into that because I need BALANCE. *SIGH* Good luck to you in finding balance in your life!

  24. Good for you hey for not settling and continuously trying to find something that works for you! You work to live, not live to work! I hope you find a balance soon!

  25. I just talked to Arielle on the phone. I would die with that lifestyle. I asked about married life and she was like, "well, we see each other for an hour or two and then i go to bed and he does other stuff." i can't even fathom that. she is strong.

    my new theory- my husband is so amazing that i need more time around him. maybe if i had a less perfect spouse, i could handle more work.

    if i didn't call you today, i meant to you. you should see "Away We Go." It's out on Netflix now.

  26. I really need to be better about mine too. My company is great about work/life balance but in the end, the work still has to get done too. But I need to be better about making time for me and not losing sight of that. It's a constant battle.

  27. I've always worked a lot, but there's something really hard about working on someone else's schedule. I work probably twice as much now that I work for myself, but I mind it so much less than when I had to be at a certain place by a certain time. I whined too. It's a hard adjustment.

  28. Hey....I used to have alot more flexibility and autonomy at my FT job (worked 3 days at home, and 2 in the office). Recently, as a result of recessionary issues (I was told anyway), I have to be in the office 5 days a week. That means a 90 minute commute one way, due to driving in prime traffic hours --- have to drop off my son at school and then hit the road.

    It does seem ludicrous sitting here now realizing I drove 15 miles an hour to get here and do this work that I most definitely am able to do at my dining room table...and did 110% plus plus plus for more than 8 years.

    I agree with all you said. There has to be a better way. And when you have a child/children, the hours are just that much more precious and there isn't enough time.

    I don't know what I'm going to do, but I can't do it like this much longer.

    GOOD LUCK TO YOU. Did the CD you listened to give you anything beyond encouragement that your thoughts are not unique? I feel stuck in a rut.


  29. Finding balance is something I keep seeing in blogs, and in conversations with my friends.
    I tend to agree with you, that the normal friend had the right answer, and that I, too, was definitely not built for a 9-5 x 5 workweek.

    I have no advice, though. :( I'm searching, too.

  30. I am 64 and have grandchildren (oldest 15). As a young woman/mother/college student I had all the same thoughts, worries, and problems. This is not a one-generation problem or a new problem. We just mostly kept it to ourselves because there was no blogging. It would make us seem like freaks NOT to want to stay at home. My ex could not understand my need for part-time work or need for education.


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