Winning The Battle of Work vs. Life
November 2, 2007
It seems that Gen Y is adding a new characteristic to our list of generational generalities – many of us are joining the ranks of workaholics. Maybe it stems from our secret conservatism that we are mirroring tendency that characterized the careers and lives of our Boomer parents. It could be our intense desire to get ahead and our willingness to do whatever that takes.
Whatever the reason, it’s time to take a serious look at this issue and understand the trajectory of a life or career that begins with workaholism. Before it’s too late.
Now, I’m not saying that having a good work ethic and using it isn’t good. Of course it is. People who work hard deserve to get ahead. And usually, they do. That always will be true, and it’s a part of the system that’s built well. But there’s a big difference between working hard and working smart. In fact, psychologists tell us that hard workers are inherently different than workaholics.
And those teetering on the brink of being a workaholic need to think: is a life solely dedicated to a job or a career – well, is that any life at all?
Gen Y, pay attention – your lives are literally on the line.
Here’s what it boils down to: How we handle the proving ourselves time in entering the workforce is going to set precedents for the way the rest of our lives and opportunities play out. For example, as Penelope Trunk recently wrote, young women who want to have a family and career face the serious dilemma of timing and capitalizing on their fertility versus committing fully to a career. On the other hand of the same argument, young men like Ryan Paugh are talking about the dilemma of whether or not to commit to a long-term romantic relationship or to take risks in their career early on.
The main problem I see with these arguments isn’t in the arguments themselves. They both make excellent points, and the many counterpoints that are out there hold a lot of validity too. The problem is in the fact that each has outlined an either/or proposition. Essentially, you can have a family/relationship or you can have a great career. You see, the very way we are talking about this issue illustrates that no matter how much we tout the value of work/life balance, we seem to believe that in a way, it’s sort of a myth. And to be honest, a lot of times it feels like a myth.
All Gen Y workers entering the workforce face the issue of just how much to give to employers– hey, we’re a skilled, capable bunch with a lot to offer. That doesn’t necessarily differentiate us from generations past. It’s part of being at this stage in life. That’s also why right now is really important in who we will become as a generation. Right now, regardless of what we want, we have to deal with the reality of a system that often rewards time over talent and tenure over expertise. We’re aching for more important assignments, paying our dues while we wait on the rest of the corporate world to recognize and harness our raw talent.
And the truth is, getting what we want will take some time. Time that’s not best spent focusing every single spare moment on career while the other parts of our lives wait to get started.
Sure, there are opportunities out there for us now, and now’s a great time to invest in our careers. But it’s not a great time to procrastinate on life. It’s a great time to be living it. Which means that if Gen Y wants to be serious about work/life balance, we have to have the courage to prioritize for life when push comes to shove. It’s not an easy decision to make, but for the sake of the future of work (not to mention the future of you), I’d say it’s one worth making.