Some of us can’t remember the last time we’ve had to blow the dust off of our resumes; others have dusted them off, tuned them up, and are back in the job game. And still others are exhausted looking, hoping things will turn around soon. In our house, unemployment was an unexpected and awkward blow to my husband (who hasn’t been unemployed for any real length of time since he was teenager). However, at the same time, that space away from work provided a moment of clarity and consideration at the midpoint in his career in civilian life and at the 20-year mark in his military career. So what’s supposed to happen next? It was time to pause and think about that for a moment.
So even as unemployment was a shock to our pockets and our lifestyle, as we’ve worked to be resourceful, it was also an opportunity to reconsider how much “value” we’ve put on work, on our jobs. Not just having a job, rather how we work. Not that we don’t both need to work, it is a necessity for us. But I guess we’ve been thinking more about how we work, and how we spend our time (physical and head space) away from work. I think my husband (and a bit of his old school thinking) considered that giving 11 years to a company meant something. And I think 11 years does mean something, the question is, to whom it means something to.
I think a lot about issues of work/life balance. I have these conversations with colleagues and friends all the time. I’ve also had many conversations with my husband around these issues, and we’ve been re-evaluating this idea of how we work. It can be complicated in a culture that still places such value on what is perceived as hard work. I think balancing a full work load (in or outside the home) with personal relationships or a family is hard work. I’ve wondered over the years if we placed as much value on cultivating our personal lives, raising our children, keeping our relationships in tact, taking time out for ourselves, what difference that would make in marriage and divorce rates, education, health care, and yes, even our productivity at our jobs.
My husband and I went to a workshop a few weeks ago and the facilitator asked us: Do we feel we’re spending our time on what matters? What is the legacy of that time? What lifetime “deposits” are we making in ourselves, our relationships, our families? Those were BIG questions that moved me to think about an analogy someone shared with me years ago. When we are on our death-beds, what will be the legacy we leave: a resume and other career accolades or vibrant memorable moments we’ve shared with the people we care about? I know that’s a little disconcerting and extreme, but it puts this idea of time into perspective and it makes it much more concrete. And I think to some extent we can have both, but I also think that if we are honest with ourselves, really honest, in the quest for work/life balance, especially in our current structure of how we work, there will always be a sacrifice for one or the other—work or life. And often what I think happens to many of us is we live in the grind…and the busy of our lives is just a part of that grind. But all of that going and going changed when my husband was laid off. All of sudden there were new things to contemplate. There was a different grind. We faced new, different challenges and responsibilities. The idea of what we believed about work had forever changed.
As the kids of “Baby Boomers”, my husband and I bought into our parents’ approach to work and labor, a steadfast work ethic without any room to breathe. But in our contemporary lives, what we had to remind ourselves was that our parents had “jobs” so that we could pursue careers, and there is (or should be) a difference in that “work”. With technological advances, now more than ever before, the children of “Boomers”, the thirty and forty-somethings, ideally should have much more wiggle room in how we want to work, where we want to work, and even when we want to go into the office. The challenge is finding a company, a career that embraces that balance of work and life. Unfortunately, that kind of reality is still out of reach for many of us. However, I do think that more and more job seekers who are either unemployed or looking to change jobs or careers are thinking about their approach to work and how work fits into their lives rather than the other way around (work dictating their lives).
Though the shift is slow, I see glimpses of the most creative, entrepreneurial, and resourceful job seekers creating their work, and determining how much time they will spend on that work. In this new day of unemployment, I think more and more professionals looking for work or changing careers are weighing the benefits and consequences of certain jobs, the costs to their relationships, friendships, marriages, and families, and looking to create work environments that allow for healthy personal lives.
And while that proverbial paycheck is still the grand motivation for many, I’ve personally noticed a slight (and endearing) shift in my husband. He still wants a “big” paycheck and is willing to work hard for it, but I’ve also noticed how thoughtful he’s become about the time we spend with each other and the time we spend with the kids. I think the “time off” from work was a moment to consider how little time we had to devote to family when both of us were in our “daily grind”. So while we can’t just give up the grind exactly, we can look at work/life balance differently, with a new perspective, and with the commitment to all of what’s important. We can’t all just only work, can we?