This week's show had a segment on one of the uniquely modern career dilemmas: work-life balance. I'm sure we're all too familiar with this problem today's worker deals with daily, trying to find the happy medium between career, and everything else we label as life.
This week's show had two guests discuss the topic. (For those who want to listen, the segment begins at 20:50) The first guest, Christina Mckelvey, explained how work had simply taken over too many of her limited hours. She was staying up until 1:00 am for a conference call in Asia, and then waking up at 5:00 am for a call in Europe. The stress was getting to her, and so she came up with an innovative solution. When working after hours, she agreed to answer emails from her boss's level or higher, but emails from anyone else in the company would just wait until morning.
The compromise seems logical, if still not quite fair: agreeing to answer any and all emails from leadership at any hour, but not for the rank and file. Still, I bet a lot of you readers will identify with the situation, as well as the need to cater to leadership.
In our age of low productivity gains, this seems to be the way some companies are getting more out of less. Since the past decade has been terrible from a productivity standpoint, the only way many companies can increase output is by creating a culture in which workers feel like they must put in longer hours. Hence our new normal, and the inability to have any real work-life balance.
The next guest, Sue Bielenberg, turned the segment on its head: she stated the question was anachronistic, maybe a bit tone deaf. The question of work-life balance reflects a time back when most of us still had good, steady jobs with salaries and benefits. Complaining about that enviable situation is somewhat insulting. Now, working as freelancer, Sue was simply not able to pay her regular bills on time, let alone enjoy any paid time off. When she went through her goals, like having a job with benefits again, having her car repairs up to date, and simply working in her field, it was clear: she would gladly take on the dilemmas of a work life balance, and working an eighty hour week, if given the chance.
As usual, it seems I've forgotten how lucky I am. Most of this blog is just a form of complaining: complaining about the fact that I have to work for another three and a half years so I can retire by forty. Complaining that I don't find my current work entirely fulfilling. And there are millions of people in my own country who would gladly take on my work, with a salary, earned from a home office, with no commute, and healthcare, and dental, and paid time off.
Who do I think I am?
Now, to be fair to those of us struggling in the modern workplace, the stresses are certainly real. People are working longer hours for stagnant pay. We're all human, so sleep deprivation, overwhelming stress, and the constant financial pressures that face workers are all things that need to be addressed.
On the other hand, there are many, many people in this country, and many billions more worldwide, who would gladly take that situation, no questions asked.
In some regard, we early retirement bloggers are the worst sort of whiners. We're living in the first world, blessed with fairly cushy jobs, we're on the path to financial freedom and security, and most of us are just counting the days until we can be rid of all of it, so we can move on to something better. I'm speaking for others here, and that's always a bad idea. But that's at least how I see it.
Sure, go for financial independence. Leave the cubicle. But things really aren't so bad. Work is long and hard, yeah, and it's probably not all that you wished it would be. But, man, in a lot of ways, things are pretty freaking awesome if you think about it. Or even if they aren't, there's probably someone on the other side of town, or the other side of the world, who would gladly trade their situation for yours.
While we're waking up to another freaking Monday, counting down the years until we can be free of work, try to find a little something to be thankful for.
*Photo is from Michael Lokner on Flickr Creative Commons.