There are two types of people: those who’d keep working if they won Lotto and those who wouldn’t. Me, I’d work. Is it bad to admit that? Am I betraying some unwritten code that states work is a drag and leisure the ultimate goal?
This same code also says every parent (read: mother) should aspire to give up their career to spend more time with their family. Actresses (never actors) are always sprouting off in interviews about how much they want to quit Hollywood to stay home with their kids and yet they never do. I suspect this is because they love their work and their kids. Which is fine. Me too. So why is that something to be denied or played down like a shameful secret?
Wait, I know. It’s because we’re all meant to be reaching for work/life balance with a moral emphasis on the life part. And my hand is up. Hell, I’m a Libra. Looking for balance is MY ASTROLOGICAL JOB.
But I have a few issues with it. First of all, it’s a pretty indulgent concept. To strive for work/life balance you need to have (a) employment and (b) a nice life. Not everyone is so lucky. The guy who works two jobs to put food on the table or the single mother who just got laid off….well, I wonder how often they Google “How Can I Achieve Work/Life Balance?”
Sometimes the pressure to be balanced can itself become a burden. I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed – it’s my default state – but at certain times in your life, balance is an impossiblity. My husband and I run our own start-up web publishing business that’s in a major growth phase. It’s hectic. This week while trying to organise a Skype meeting with someone, he asked me “Which shift are we talking, day or night? My day shift finishes at 6pm, night shift starts at 8pm.”
I hear you, brother. That’s my life at the moment, hence the overwhelm. (Note: I now feel a pressing need to tell you how much time I spend with my kids so you don’t mutter ‘bad mother’ while shaking your head in faux concern. I DO spend a lot of time with my kids but those spinning plates on sticks are constantly smashing to the ground and I’ve grown quite used to the sound of broken crockery. )
Not everyone is seeking that elusive balance. There’s a hidden subculture of people who actually enjoy devoting most of their waking hours to work. When you’re lucky enough to do something you love, boundaries between work and play blur. And sometimes that makes observers uncomfortable.
A girlfriend was forced to defend herself last year when she sent some work emails from hospital two days after giving birth to her third child. “I didn’t have to but I wanted to” she explained each time her email generated an ‘Are-You-Mad?!’ response. “If I enjoy my work, how is it different to watching TV or reading a book?”
A political journalist I admire who juggles a towering pile of media commitments with two small children is constantly asked “how do you do it?” and her response is equally simple. “If I wasn’t paid to write about politics, I’d follow it anyway. It’s just what I’m interested in. The pay part is a bonus.”
I feel the same way even though many of my work hours are spent away from the office. I’m always the last one to work and the first to leave. I’m also the one who shouts, “Go home and get a life, you losers!” with loving affection as I race out the door. But they don’t want to. They’re all happy shifting their lives in favour of work right now. None of my editorial team have kids. Two have long-distance partners. All are under 30.
In the most biased and disingenuous piece of anecdotal research ever conducted, I asked them whether they like working so much. Apparently, they do and yet they all agreed there was a stigma attached to long hours. “But I think it comes from people who hate their jobs,” said one, adding, “One of my friends works in property and spends her weekends at house inspections, reading home magazines and watching real estate porn. My mum’s a chef and nothing makes her happier than cooking for other people. If you’re lucky enough to enjoy what you do, it’s a gift.”
And when you don’t have the emotional tug of pets, partners or family in your heart and head, it can be a window of opportunity. “Why can’t I fill this non-commitment period of time with work and study and things that I generally see to be more productive than chatting on Facebook?” says one 21 year old who works full time and studies law at night. “Because when you look at it, even with everything I do, my life is still much easier than it would be if I was 40 and had a mortgage and a husband and children and a parent with Alzheimer’s. What’s that saying? ‘Find something you love and you’ll never work another day in your life.’”
True. Meanwhile I’m off to find a dustpan and brush to clean up all my broken plates.
Have you found the elusive work/life balance? Do you know anybody who has? Would you still go to work, even if you weren’t paid? Why?